Sunday September 19, 2021

Covid-19 effects on migrant workers highlighted

October 29, 2020

LAHORE: In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic and its repercussion, around 90 million people are expected to fall into poverty and in reference to South and South East Asian economies, the future of migrant workers does not seem encouraging.

Aspiring migrants had to borrow and spend huge amounts to obtain work visas but now they are facing an uncertain future as destination countries have toughened their migration policies and air travel remains limited.

These views were stated by Director Centre on International Migration, Remittances and Diaspora (CIMRAD), Lahore School of Economics, Dr Rashid Amjad while inaugurating the second international virtual conference.

The title of the webinar was “Impact of Covid-19 on Migrants, Migration Flows and Remittances: Focus on South and South East Asia.” The webinar was participated by national and international migration researchers and experts.

Prof Phillipe Fargues, founding director of Migration Policy Centre in Florence, set the tune for the webinar by raising questions about the nature and impact of the pandemic. The role of migrants in spreading the disease was also looked at.

Dr Rashid Amjad, Director, CIMRAD, in response to this summed up that in most countries the migrants were not responsible for spreading the disease as they constituted only a small minority of population.

Dr Amjad raised the issue of the psycho-social impact on the migrants and return migrants of the pandemic. However, along with highlighting the issues facing migrants, the speakers also highlighted the opportunity for state and non-state actors. Dialogue among sending

and host countries, employers, diplomatic missions, ministries, and foreign officers will be crucial in deciding the fate of migrants, migration flows, and labour markets.

Dr G M Arif highlighted the need to consider the pandemic’s impact on labour markets. According to his estimate, 1 to 2.5 percent of Pakistan’s total labour force would be affected as a consequence.

Dr Rashid expressed his concern over the grim picture these projections painted for the future of Pakistan’s economy. Mahendra Kumar Rai, researcher at the Nepal Institute of Development Studies (NIDS), pointed towards the halt in the flow of migrants, which approximately amounted to 1,100 youths everyday prior to the pandemic as a major factor impacting the Nepali Economy.

Dr Nasra Shah, professor at Lahore School of Economics, emphasised that the sending countries should remain cognizant of not only the financial situation but also the non-economic factors, such as the impact of Covid-19 on Kafala system, chain migration, and attitudes of the host countries that will determine the demand for foreign workers in the Gulf in a post-Covid-19 scenario.

Prof Phillipe Fargues presented an analytical framework to understand the complex nature of the relationship. Dr Francoise Dr Bel-Air, senior fellow at the Gulf Labour Markets and Migration Programme (GLMM), spoke on the condition of Asian Migrants in the Gulf on the eve of covid-19 pandemic.

Dr CR Abrar, Director, Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), explored the various ways in which the return migrant in Bangladesh have been stigmatised by the Bangladeshi authorities.

Nasir Iqbal, professor at PIDE, spoke about the adversities that the pandemic has struck upon irregular migrants from Pakistan to Europe. Dr Maruja MB Asis, Director of the Scalabrini Migration Centre, posited that out of the 285 repatriated Fillipino migrant workers, 52pc reported to have lost their jobs and 60pc reported that they were ill prepared to face the return since they had no savings.

Impact of Covid-19 on remittance flows to South and South East Asian countries and the consequent effects was also reviewed and analysed. In the context of Pakistan, Ms Almazia Shahzad, Research Fellow, Lahore School of Economics, pointed out that Pakistan’s current experience of an unprecedented increase in remittances was no different than during the Global Financial Crisis. In her assessment the major contributing factor was the shift from informal to formal channels.

Similar unprecedented increase was also reported in Sri Lanka by Dr Bilesha Weeraratne, but she pointed out that regardless of the reasons for the surge, remittance receiving households were to benefit less.

Dr Ibrahim Awad, Director, Center for Migration and Refugee Studies (CMRS), at the American University in Cairo (AUC), mentioned how remittances in Egypt as well have increased during the period.

Panelists also touched upon the role of sending and host countries in managing the effects of the pandemic on migrant workers.

Froilan Malit, associate at GLMM and Mr Manolo Abella, former director of International Migration Programme, ILO, spoke about the power asymmetry between the sending and host countries leading to exacerbated vulnerabilities of migrants.

Dr Lubna Al-Kazi, Women's Research and Studies Center, Kuwait University, recognised that a lot more efforts are needed on behalf of the host countries to alleviate the crisis faced by the migrants, some of their efforts are worth noting.