NEW YORK - The head of the U.N. Migration Agency said the coronavirus pandemic has affected people worldwide, including migrants — many of whom have gotten ill, lost jobs or been stranded in destination countries.
“As usual in all crises, migrants are the first ones to lose jobs,” International Organization for Migration (IOM) Director General Antonio Vitorino told VOA ahead of International Migrants Day on Friday. “The World Bank forecasts, for instance, a drop in remittances to the countries of origin of around 20% this year, which will have a terrible impact in the living conditions of the countries of origin of those migrants.”
He said virus-related lockdowns, travel restrictions and border closures have also stranded about 3 million migrants all over the world.
The IOM estimates there are 272 million migrants globally. A little less than half are women. The United Nations considers a migrant to be anyone who changes their country, regardless of the reason. But most move to seek economic improvement.
According to IOM data, India has the largest number of migrants living abroad — 17.5 million — followed by Mexico (11.8 million) and China (10.7 million). The United States remains the top destination country, home to more than 50 million migrants.
Migrants are often thought of as being undocumented workers, but the vast majority legally reside in destination countries and work in all fields, from unskilled labor to highly specialized sectors.
COVID-19 has particularly affected migrants working in the informal economy — many have lost jobs or work permits. They do not have the resources to manage financially through long lockdowns and quarantine periods. If they catch the virus, they often lack access to public health care or are afraid to use it if they are undocumented.
Others have found themselves on the front lines of the virus response, as factory or grocery store employees, truck drivers, or health care workers.
As some countries begin approving the first COVID-19 vaccines, Vitorino said the migrant community must not be excluded from receiving them.
“It is the responsibility of governments to guarantee that all that are present in their territory, whether nationals or non-nationals, migrants irrespective of their legal status, have access to vaccines,” he said. “Because in practical terms, the pandemic has shown us that nobody is safe till everyone is safe.”
Sadly, the pandemic has not stopped traffickers and other criminals seeking to exploit migrants.
“There are four times more arrivals in Italy this year through the Mediterranean, one of the most dangerous routes, than last year,” Vitorino said of those who try to cross on boats and rafts. “Or if you look to the Gulf of Aden, there are 130,000 people who are crossing the Gulf both ways to reach the (Arab) Gulf countries, and they did not stop because of the pandemic.”
More than 3,100 migrants have died trying to reach destination countries this year. Drowning is the most common cause.
Vitorino said that migration is a natural human phenomenon that must be done in safe, dignified and regular ways.
“It has always existed, and it will go on existing in our world,” he said.
Source: Voice of America