Coronavirus Could Push More People to Move out of Necessity as Hunger Surges among Migrant and Displaced Communities Says New UN Report

Geneva/Rome – A new report has found global hunger and population displacement  – both already at record levels when COVID-19 struck – could surge as people on the move and those reliant on a dwindling flow of remittances desperately seek work to support their families. 

The report – the first of its kind – was released today by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and shows how the pandemic has driven up food insecurity and increased vulnerability among migrants, families reliant on remittances and communities forced from their homes by conflict, violence and disasters. 

The two UN agencies warn the social and economic toll of the pandemic could be devastating and call on the world to prevent it by stepping up support in response to immediate and rising humanitarian needs, addressing the socioeconomic impacts of the crisis and ensuring that the most vulnerable are not forgotten. 

"The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on health and human mobility threatens to roll back global commitments, including within the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, and hinder ongoing efforts to support those in need of assistance. It is our collective responsibility to safeguard the rights of people on the move and ensure their protection from further harm,” said IOM’s Director-General, António Vitorino.   

“The socio-economic impact of the pandemic is more devastating than the disease itself. Many people in low- and middle-income countries, who a few months ago were poor but just about getting by, now find their livelihoods have been destroyed. Remittances sent from workers abroad to their families at home have also dried up, causing immense hardship. As a result, hunger rates are sky-rocketing around the world,” said WFP Executive Director, David Beasley. 

The impact the pandemic has had on the ways people move is unprecedented. Measures and restrictions put in place in over 220 countries, territories or areas to contain the spread of the disease have limited human mobility, opportunities to work and earn an income, straining the ability of migrants and displaced people to afford food and other basic needs.  

Food insecurity and displacement are closely intertwined. Hunger – especially when combined with conflict – is a critical push factor driving people to move. Nine out of ten of the world’s worst food crises are in countries with the largest number of internally displaced persons. Meanwhile, the majority of displaced people are located in countries affected by acute food insecurity and malnutrition.  

The world’s 164 million migrant workers, especially those working in the informal sector, are some of the worst hit by the pandemic. They often work on temporary or seasonal bases for low wages without access to social protection systems. During economic crises, these populations are often the first to lose their jobs. At the same time, disruptions to seasonal agricultural work could have ramifications on the production, processing and distribution of food, which could affect food availability and affordability at local and regional levels. 

Without sustained income, the report warns that many migrants will not only be pushed to return home but will also cause at least a temporary drop in remittances which provide an essential lifeline for around 800 million – or one in nine – people in the world.  

The pandemic has made livelihood opportunities for migrants increasingly scarce, and the World Bank expects a 14 percent drop in remittances to low- and middle-income countries by 2021. The consequences for food security could be devastating. WFP projects that by end of 2021 at least 33 million additional people could be driven into hunger due to the expected drop in remittances alone.    

The two agencies call on the international community to ensure that every effort is made to limit the immediate impact on the most vulnerable, while ensuring longer term investments that ensure a pathway to recovery. 

The International Organization for Migration is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. It does so by providing services and advice to governments and migrants and other mobile populations. IOM promotes international cooperation on migration issues to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration challenges and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, be they refugees, displaced persons or other uprooted people as well as their host communities.. 

The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change. 

Follow us on Twitter @wfp_media and @unmigration  

For more information, please contact: 

Date Publish: 
coronavirus, covid, covid19, pandemic, hunger, un, wfp

UN Agencies regret the death of persons on the move in Latin America, and stand ready to accompany a coordinated regional response

Date Publish: 
15 / 10 / 2021

UN Agencies deeply regret the shipwreck in Acandí, Colombia, on October 11 of a vessel carrying around 30 people headed to Panama. Colombian authorities reported that three people lost their lives in the tragedy and another six, including three children, are missing.

Yet again, the incident shows the despair to which families with children have been driven, as well as the risks to which people on the move are exposed during their journey, seeking safety, protection of their rights, and looking for a better life, while crossing borders — often on irregular routes given the lack of routes for regular migration.

Although population movements across the Darien region are not new, their magnitude, risk levels, and precariousness have increased in the last months. Similarly, the profile of people following this route and the variety of nationalities have broadened, mainly including people from the Caribbean and South America, and people from other continents.

According to Panama’s National Migration Service, between January and September this year, 91,300 people crossed the Darien Gap. UNICEF has reported that, out of those people, 19,000 were boys and girls, half of them less than five years old. As of September, more than 50 people had been found dead on the Panamanian side of the Darien route. This situation demands that the countries and civil society stakeholders involved collaborate in taking actions to ensure that the people missing during these journeys are searched and identified.

Along the route, many people (particularly, women, girls, and boys) are exposed to risks and human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence, robbery, people trafficking, discrimination, extortion and kidnapping, among others. Most of these are committed by organized crime. Girls and women are particularly affected by the situation. Therefore, a response from a gender perspective is needed.

UN Agencies highlight the need to strengthen safe, regular, or organized migration routes to reduce the risk of death. Additionally, they call to strengthen the investigations against national and transnational groups and networks involved in trafficking, smuggling and related illegal activities. Furthermore, UN Agencies urge States to protect the rights of all persons on the move (particularly women, girls, boys, and others with specific protection needs), including the right to seek and be granted asylum. Similarly, they encourage States to ensure effective access to basic services, regardless of someone’s migration status, the reasons why a person on the move left their country of origin, their income level, or their travel conditions or circumstances.

Healthy economies and societies depend on well-managed human mobility to foster economic growth, reduce inequalities, connect diverse societies, and stimulate post-COVID-19 recovery.

The collaboration between the authorities of the countries through which these mixed movements of population transit is necessary for an effective and comprehensive response that ensures safety and dignity for people on the move on a regional level. UN agencies stand ready to accompany this process.

Joint statement by the regional offices of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), International Labour Organization (ILO), UN Women, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

For more information, contact: