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How effects of border closures are being felt by many in Africa

African migrants stimulate economic growth and development in areas of destination, transit and origin through their labour, skills transfer, consumption and investments. Their remittances also make significant contributions to food security, human capital, rural development and overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in areas of origin.

COVID-19 pandemic is acting as a catalyst for decreased job opportunities at home and increased foreign-born unemployment rates in host economies, COVID-19 will most likely affect the overall economic conditions of migrants and reinforce the root causes of irregular mobility.

FAO 2020, Migrant workers and the COVID-19 pandemic report notes that the impact of COVID-19 affects migrant workers disproportionally. Often precarious working conditions and overcrowded living and transport arrangements increase their vulnerability to contagion and loss of employment, threatening their health and livelihoods. Those working under informal arrangements, commonly in the agriculture sector, are largely excluded from accessing real-time reliable information, social protection, healthcare and government response measures.

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There were an estimated 11.5 million migrant domestic workers (MDWs) around the world in 2013, approximately 8.5 million of whom were female according to the International Labour Organization. In times of COVID 19, their employers may be infected and pass the disease on, perish with the worker losing their income since work permits are often tied to the employer. With border closures, returning to countries of origin is often not possible, trapping migrant domestic workers in destination countries without housing and income.

While they face the same health threats from COVID-19 as any other human being, migrants may be exposed to a higher level of vulnerability linked to discrimination and exclusion in their living and working conditions or in their access to basic services including healthcare. Under these difficult circumstances, migrants may be at risk of abuse and other human rights violations.

Urban-to-rural return migration increases due to lockdowns and job losses in cities. This context poses challenges and opportunities in rural sectors, while many return migrants face stigmatization as potential carriers of the virus.

In June 2020, report shows that there are more than six million internally displaced persons across West and Central Africa who are almost exclusively reliant on humanitarian aid, which has been impacted by restrictions on mobility. IDPs who previously had been able to earn wages through an informal local labour market, now are unable to do so given restrictions on entry and exit from many of the region’s IDP camps.

Double burden in low- and middle income countries 

One in nine people on earth are affected by remittance flows. Roughly half reside in small towns and rural villages where remittances put food on the table, educate children and support small businesses. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicate that regional migration has dropped by nearly 50 per cent during the first half of 2020 (compared with 2019) due to government travel restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A 23 percent decline in remittances flow into sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), as a result of economic downturns, restrictions in movement and challenges sending transfers to SSA, is expected to heavily impact the livelihoods of households and countries that rely on them for food and other basic expenditures, such as health and education.

The safe movement of workers in the agrifood system within and between countries should be facilitated, recognizing their vital contribution to food security. To this end, occupational safety and health measures should be put in place in the workplace, housing and transportation means, working visas extended, and temporary work permits conceded.

The inclusion of migrants, regardless of their work or migratory status, in COVID-19 socioeconomic impact assessments, response and recovery plans (including social protection programmes) will reduce the risk of transmission for the entire population while safeguarding the livelihoods of many households falling into poverty as a result of the pandemic. The “leave no one behind” approach takes a public-health dimension in addition to a human-rights one.

Coordinated, multisectoral and multilevel responses that are migrant-sensitive in their design and include the perspective of migrant associations and diaspora, in addition to responses from governments, the private sector and producer organizations, should be developed in the region to ensure sustainable policies that go beyond the crisis and build back better. Such interventions should be gender-sensitive and tailored to specific country contexts.

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