Migrants in Asia Pacific face higher risk of Covid and socioeconomic fallout

Unlike nationals, migrants have generally not been included in social security provisions like unemployment insurance or income support

Photograph: The roads travelled for work - Women Migrant Workers in Singapore and Malaysia by UN Women Gallery/Flickr

The coronavirus pandemic and its socioeconomic fallout pose great risks to migrants in the Asia Pacific, a new UN report reveals.

They are more likely to be exposed to the virus, lack access to healthcare and other essential services, be stranded in countries without work or social protection and face rising xenophobia. However, as essential workers and remittance providers, migrants are also key to recovering better.

Unlike nationals, migrants have generally not been included in social security provisions like unemployment insurance or income support. Migrants have also been disproportionately affected by border closures and lockdowns, leaving many vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

This exclusion of migrants poses major threats to their human rights and wellbeing. Poverty reduction efforts in the region are likely to be affected too as will the effort to build stronger, more inclusive and resilient communities. 

Migrant remittances to the Asia-Pacific region, which rose from $183bn in 2009 to $330bn in 2019, have declined due to the Covid outbreak, leaving many households of migrants without a major source of income.

These findings are among the key conclusions of the Asia-Pacific Migration Report 2020, released on International Migrants Day.

The report was produced by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap) and the Regional UN Network on Migration for Asia Pacific in preparation for the first Asia-Pacific regional review of the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration scheduled to take place in March 2021.

The report was drafted by Escap, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, with inputs from UNAIDS, UNDP, UNEP, Unesco, UNFPA, UN-Habitat, UNHCR, Unicef, UNODC, UN-Women and WFP.

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“Today, the number of international migrants, to, from and within the region, is at an all-time high. Safe, orderly and regular migration can reduce the vulnerability of migrants and societies to the negative impacts of Covid-19 and future pandemics and help build back better, more resilient communities,” UN Under-Secretary-General and executive secretary of ESCAP Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana said. “Greater regional and subregional cooperation on migration would contribute to a more effective Covid-19 response and to maximise the benefits of migration for all.”

“Migrants have been at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19. On this International Migrants Day [on 18 December 2020], we thank them for their contributions, and strongly advocate for a more inclusive response to the pandemic which doesn’t leave them behind, particularly now as countries around the world start massive vaccination programmes,” shared Dr Nenette Motus, coordinator of the Regional UN Network for Migration for Asia and the Pacific and director of the IOM Asia-Pacific regional office.

The report shows that international migration from, to and between Asia-Pacific countries has increased over the past 30 years. The number of migrants in the region has grown from 52 million in 1990 to 65 million in 2019.

Almost 107 million people from Asia and the Pacific lived outside their countries of birth in 2019 – equivalent to 2.2% of the region’s total population, the largest single region of origin of migrants in the world. Most recorded migrants are migrant workers, contributing to sustainable development in countries of origin and destination.

Covid will continue to have an impact on people and communities on the move in the near future. Even as vaccines are approved, the report underlines that the inclusion of migrants in vaccination programmes, including migrants in irregular situations, will be critical.

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The report presents the first comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration in the region. It provides a baseline assessment of achievements, gaps, lessons learned and remaining challenges to guide action to ensure safe, orderly and regular migration, for the benefit of all in the region.

Source: United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific via Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

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