Pakistan Institute of Development Economics


Migration and Covid-19

Publication Year : 2020
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In the wake of a debate on the migration-development-security nexus, the situation of Covid-19 has put irregular migrants into greater socio-economic and health vulnerabilities.Most of the irregular…ShareNext Story >>>In the wake of a debate on the migration-development-security nexus, the situation of Covid-19 has put irregular migrants into greater socio-economic and health vulnerabilities.Most of the irregular migrants across the globe are absorbed in the informal sectors of the host countries. Hence outlining their health, social, and economic crises during the Covid-19 pandemic is a matter of academic and policy concern within current research.Pakistan is an exciting space to study irregular migration in these contemporary and temporal settings, particularly when we look at Covid-19. Apart from legal migration (around 11 million people have proceeded abroad since 1970), there is massive irregular migration, especially to Europe, from Pakistan.About 6,767 irregular migrants entered Europe in 2017. Iran deports over 20,000 Pakistani migrants every year. In the last four years, Iran has expelled 80040, Turkey deported 10476 individuals, and European Union exiled more than 20000 Pakistanis.We explore the process of entailing irregular migration, which drives people to opt for unlawful channels to migrate. How do those who manage to migrate illegally survive socially and economically in the wake of Covid-19? What adversities has the pandemic stuck upon them? We conduct online interviews with irregular migrants working in the host countries informal sectors, namely Greece, Germany, the UK, Italy, and North America.We find three factors that explain irregular migration: first, fundamental factors such as population growth, social disintegration, environmental disorder, and economic reorganization. Second are the proximate factors that trigger people to migrate, including migration, low income, unemployment, labor demand in host countries, social conflicts, and viable opportunities in foreign lands. And, third, the sustaining factors such as network, resource and knowledge, travel possibilities, and home and host countries’ legislation.Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, irregular migrants have lost jobs. The issues of legality vs illegality of their status, economic vulnerabilities, the role of governments of the host and origin countries, irregular migrants as vulnerably poor, and social capital as social security are some of the key findings.A failed Pakistani asylum seeker in Germany says, “The status of illegality is a bit tricky in Germany. There are few real illegals in the country because most have a Duldung, not a residence permit but just a temporary deportation suspension. Such people are neither legally nor illegally residing within Germany. In any case, many of these still live in shared accommodations with very little space and insufficient sanitary infrastructure; it is difficult to escape an infection there, once the virus has entered the place.”Then we come to the role of the state and the government. Is it facilitating or otherwise? An irregular migrant from Canada says that “Yes, there are informal systems such as Pakistani diaspora or local civil society that raises funds, identifies us, and reaches out to us, but…is there any guarantee that all of us are being helped by such informal networking? No, it is high time that we be considered a recipient of the state’s package programs.”When it comes to social capital as social security, a US-based irregular migrant says that: “Yes, the Pakistani community fully supported people financially during Covid-19. The owners of different buildings compensated the people regarding rent during the pandemic.” A Germany-based irregular migrant says that: “The people who have legal status fully support illegal migrants as they work with and for them as domestic help in their homes, in stores, small companies, and agri-lands. They also provided them [illegal migrants] with monthly food staples and cash.There are some recommended interventions to facilitate irregular migrant workers during a pandemic: based on these research results, the government should intervene to facilitate irregular migrants before the peak of the second wave of Covid-19. The forms of intervention which can be operable in contemporary situational settings of the country are as follows:First, in the wake of this experiential reality, the origin and host countries must relax the stringent conditionality of documentation, formal employment, legal status, and work permits as qualifying criteria to become recipients for such programs and packages.Second, the impacts of the lockdown have disproportionate effects on the vulnerably poor. The institutionalized policies and frameworks compounded by precautionary measures under Covid-19 are already marginalizing the poor. In this situation, mapping the vulnerably poor and including irregular migrants into the policy ambit is mandatory.Third, building alliances between the state institutions and the civil society is also mandatory to devise socially responsive and contextual policies. Lastly, for failed asylum seekers, their cases must be reconsidered, and the host countries must also relax border-mobility restrictions.In essence, this research proposes to deconstruct existing stringent legal and spatial barriers in literal and figurative contexts to ease irregular migrants. The study also calls for adopting a more collaborative and sectoral approach to include irregular migrants as vulnerably poor in host countries’ social security packages. Lack of data is another obstacle in identifying the irregular migrants in host countries; hence their geographic and social mapping is also critical. The role of networking and social capital can also be instrumental in the target population’s social mapping.