The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is global news as, over the past months, leaders and politicians all over the world have implemented various iterations of lockdown or community regulation due to the outbreak. The news has been flooded with stories of the pandemic as we have witnessed the alarming daily updates of the numbers of victims and cases increasing worldwide.
The spread of the virus has affected the lives of people worldwide in some way or another, regardless of their economic or social status. However, the extent to which people are affected is evident, with communities enjoying less opportunities or resources clearly facing additional obstacles in the battle against this pandemic, such as the lack of access to food and other essential resources, limited access to healthcare in some places, an inability to engage in social distancing/hygiene practices and so on, making the social and economic gaps that exist in our societies all the more evident and concerning.
It is no surprise that one group who are disproportionately feeling the challenges of the pandemic are migrant populations already living in difficult conditions, which have become all the more challenging in the face of COVID-19. Living conditions for those living in camp settings are typically challenging and, the ability to practice good hygiene and social distancing in overcrowded camps is virtually impossible.. Moreover, the lack of access to healthcare facilities for many migrants also impedes their ability to receive adequate care in case of infection from Covid-19.
In the Mediterranean, Search and Rescue (SAR) operations have also become increasingly challenging to execute with Italy and Malta closing their ports in response to this pandemic and refusing entry to those stranded at sea.
Meanwhile, the impact of the pandemic on employment worldwide is also having devastating consequences for migrants. With Labour Day approaching on the 1st of May, we are taking the opportunity to discuss the labour sector and the troubles that it is facing, and how these problems are influencing migrants, both in regular and irregular situations.
Some measures have already been taken by the international community to protect the welfare of migrants during this pandemic. IOM, for example, has recently released guidance for employers and businesses on the protection of migrant workers during the Covid-19 crisis. Its main points stressing the importance of ensuring the well-being, equality and dignity of migrant workers.
Meanwhile, NGOs and civil society organizations are also trying to raise awareness about the poor living and working conditions of migrants, whilst also working hard to ensure displaced populations have easy access to proper public health information
IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON LABOUR MIGRATION
In many countries, residency permits are linked to work permits and therefore, following the outbreak of the virus, many migrant workers have had their contracts terminated, or allowed to lapse, putting them in a vulnerable situation with some even facing deportation. These restrictions, combined with the widespread lockdown and closure of borders, show a complete disregard for the rights of migrants, giving the impression they are viewed as temporary and disposable members of society.
IRREGULAR LABOUR AND IRREGULAR MIGRANTS
A significant amount of migrant work is linked to illegal labour and although the issues of this type of labour go beyond the recent spread of the virus, they are currently more evident than ever. People working without regular contracts do not have access to any social benefits which puts them in increasingly stressful situations – especially now many are unable to work as a result of enforced quarantine. Without access to regular labour, and therefore income, the current pandemic is enhancing migrant marginalisation.
Furthermore, many sectors of the economy that rely on this illegal labour are facing shortages of workers as a result of current restrictions. In Italy, for example, the agricultural sector is facing hardship as the lack of seasonal workers required to pick crops is causing significant losses, as these jobs are usually performed by seasonal or irregular migrant workers
THE NEED FOR REGULARISATION
These current challenges highlight the desperate need for the regularisation of irregular migrants under broader, less exploitative and more stable terms. In Italy, trade unions and the Ministry of Agriculture is asking for the regularisation of these workers, as they are urgently needed to sustain Italy’s agricultural industry. Meanwhile, the same issues can be seen, for example, in the care industry where caregivers or housekeeping staff are often third country nationals, at times unregistered, who now find themselves excluded from access to state benefits an working essential roles.
However, not every nation has responded with severe restrictions. In Portugal, migrants and asylum seekers in the country have been granted full citizenship rights during the current pandemic to ensure equal access to the country’s health care to slow the spread of the virus and protect vulnerable communities through inclusivity.
The example of Portugal shows how the regularisation of migrants can be a feasible solution to the aforementioned issues during these times by allowing regularised labour to continue whilst supporting the wellbeing of migrant communities . Recognizing all members of society, even those in marginalized or transient groups, is crucial if the global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are ones which integrate the needs and human rights everybody – especially those facing additional obstacles as a result of their status as displaced individuals. :
“Human rights must be at the centre of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic … no one should be left behind in this global fight.” (UN experts Felipe González Morales and Maria Grazia Giammarinaro)