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Africa and Asia to face migrant crisis amid pandemic, ILO warns

By EDITH MUTETHYA | China Daily | Updated: 2020-06-29 06:58

Millions of Asian and African migrants are expected to return home whether through compulsion or voluntarily as their job prospects evaporate due to COVID-19, the International Labour Organization says.

Migrants from Africa, Cuba and Haiti, who are stranded in Honduras after borders were closed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, shield from the rain during their trek northward in an attempt to reach the U.S., in Tegucigalpa, Honduras June 3, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

The migrant workers who will be forced to return home after losing their jobs face unemployment and poverty in their home countries, it warned.

In some of the middle-income countries where the migrants will be forced to go back, labor markets that were fragile even before COVID-19 appeared are now further weakened by the strain of high unemployment and serious business disruptions due to the pandemic.

In addition, their families will suffer financially from the loss of the remittances normally sent to them.

These countries will also receive reduced remittances, a vital source of income for developing economies.

The World Bank has forecast that remittances to low and middle-income countries will fall 19.7 percent to $445 billion, representing a loss of a crucial financing lifeline for many vulnerable households.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, remittance flows to sub-Saharan Africa are forecast to fall 23.1 percent to $37 billion this year, and a recovery of 4 percent is expected next year, the World Bank said.

The expected decline can be attributed to a combination of factors driven by COVID-19 in key destinations where African migrants reside, including Europe, the United States, the Middle East and China.

These large economies host many sub-Saharan African migrants and are a source of close to a quarter of total remittances sent to the region, the bank said.

The ILO said policies should be put in place to protect stranded migrant workers and to ensure the reintegration of those who return to their home countries.

The organization said helping returning migrants reintegrate will reduce tensions in their home countries, where some communities may fear that returning migrants may bring the virus or take jobs away.

"This is a potential crisis within a crisis," said Manuela Tomei, director of the organization's Conditions of Work and Equality Department.

"We know that many millions of migrant workers, who were under lockdown in their countries of work, have lost their jobs and are now expected to return home to countries that are already grappling with weak economies and rising unemployment. Cooperation and planning are key to avert a worse crisis."

Limited scope

There are estimated to be 164 million migrant workers worldwide, nearly half of them women, comprising 4.7 percent of the global labor force. While not all these workers will return home after losing their jobs or for other reasons, informal ILO research in more than 20 countries indicates that many millions are expected to do so.

Most of their home countries have very limited scope to reintegrate such large numbers, and often lack the policies and systems to ensure effective labor migration governance and smooth reintegration plans, including for skills development and recognition.

Despite the unemployment crisis, the ILO said the returning migrant workers bring skills and talent that can help their home economies rebuild better after the pandemic.

However, the key to unlocking the potential is the establishment of rights-based and orderly return and reintegration systems, access to social protection, and proper skills recognition.

This can facilitate better skills and jobs matching, thus increasing productivity for national industries, the organization said.

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