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Spotlight: Covid-19: a dangerous health environment for migrants

last modified Oct 07, 2020 09:47 AM
Spotlight: Covid-19: a dangerous health environment for migrants

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Covid-19 brings to our attention the importance of migrant workers for host economies: nurses, doctors, care workers, delivery personnel and agricultural workers are now being praised as essential frontline workers.  Many migrant frontline workers are exposed to the virus.  Concern is growing about the high number of BME members of such services and workforces who have succumbed to Covid-19.

Covid-19 has also exacerbated long-standing vulnerabilities of migrant workers and their families, particularly those who are undocumented. Flexible contracts, or the lack thereof, mean that many low-skilled migrants are the first to lose their employment without sufficient social protection and insurance to compensate them, and they may not be able to access government financial support.  Those who are undocumented may be prevented from accessing essential health and even food due to a lack of firewall between policing and social services, and the high costs they incur for medical treatment. In the context of Covid-19 these realities create dangerous levels of vulnerability to the disease.

Although many homeless have been housed by local councils, those most marginalised by society because of their lack of legal rights may find themselves destitute living on the street and even in airports.  Amongst many other questions, are also the issues of visa extension and repatriation and where this leaves families who have emigrated or immigrated when borders are shut because of the virus. The following articles have been selected to draw attention to some of the issues that migrants are confronted with during Covid-19 and some of the strategies which have been  developed by a range of countries to address such vulnerability in the pandemic.

The links below are a collection of stories and reports, the good and the bad, documenting responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. Feel free to email through more to


Table of Contents

1.     Citizen Rights and Border Controls

2.     Health care and Migrants

3.     Covid-19 in Detention Centres, Refugee Camps and Migrant Worker Settings

4.     Global Migration, Aid and Covid

5.     Donations, Volunteering and Help


1.      Citizen Rights and Border Controls

Portugal gives migrants and asylum-seekers full citizenship rights during coronavirus outbreak By Mia Alberti and Vasco Cotovio (CNN, 31 Mar 2020)

Coronavirus and Migration: What's happening and where next?

Join four brilliant speakers discussing how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting migrants and migration policy in the UK. They discuss the horrific conditions for people in detention, the changing public debate, the legal situation for migrants and what we should be campaigning on now. (New Economy Organisers Network (NEON) Facebook Page, 29 Apr 2020)


  •   Maya Goodfellow, Author of 'Hostile Environment: How immigrants became scapegoats'
  •   Bella Sankey, Detention Action
  •   Dolores Modern, Latin American Women's Rights Service
  •   Minnie Rahman, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

You might be interested in listening to excerpt of the Home Affairs Committee on the Impact of CVID-19 on the Immigration, Asylum and Detention Systems.  (Parliament Live TV, 21 Apr 2020)

A project of the Academy of Social Sciences special interest group on Migration, Refugees and Settlement by Giorgia Donà (Blog series on Social Scientists Against the Hostile Environment, 21 Apr 2020)

Continuing our series of contributions around race and migration in the context of COVID-19, we are sharing this video that includes our member Professor Giorgia Donà (co-director of the Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging at the University of East London) talking on the Indus News talk show Scope with Waqar Rizvi. The segment on the impacts of the virus on refugees and migrants starts at 18:06. Dr Liza Schuster (Reader in Sociology, City University) and journalist Catherine Guilyardi (De Facto) talk about the situation in France. From 24:20, Giorgia talks about the UK, and grassroots solidarity on the one hand and, on the other, how the state’s hostile environment policy makes refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants doubly vulnerable in the current crisis. From 32:05, she argues that, while the pandemic is global in scope, the lack of coordinated responses at European and global level contributes to the global invisibility of refugees and migrants amid COVID-19.

Bordering under the corona virus pandemic by Georgie Wemyss and Nira Yuval-Davis (Blog post from Social Scientists against the Hostile Environment, 20 Apr 2020)

COVID-19, wall building, and the effects on Migrant Protection Protocols by the Trump administration: the spectacle of the worsening human rights disaster on the Mexico-U.S. border by Terence M. Garrett (Taylor and Francis online, 9 Apr 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic has repercussions well beyond the confines of borders. National border policies can thwart international efforts to combat the spread of infectious diseases. These problems are especially relevant for the United States with the spectacle of President Trump’s “big, beautiful border wall” used as leverage to maintain political and economic power domestically and globally while confronting the coronavirus pandemic. The focus of this paper is the implementation of Trump’s Zero Tolerance Policy, Migrant Protection Protocols, and the Asylum Cooperation Agreement, all aimed primarily at migrants and refugees, the homo sacer, from Central America to prevent entrance into the U.S. using the border security apparatus. These policies have adverse consequences for people dwelling throughout the hemisphere, particularly borderlanders, as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads into the Americas.

Coronavirus pandemic in the EU - Fundamental Rights Implications - Bulletin 1 (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 23 Apr 2020)

Equality, non-discrimination and racism

Data protection, privacy and new technologies

The outbreak of COVID-19 affects people’s daily life in the 27 EU Member States. As the number of infected people in the EU territory began to mount rapidly in February and March, governments put in place a raft of measures – often introduced in a period of only a few days – in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. Many of these measures reflect how, in exceptional emergency situations, the urgent need to save lives justifies restrictions on other rights, such as the freedom of movement and of assembly. This report outlines some of the measures EU Member States have put in place to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. It covers the period 1 February – 20 March 2020.

The report focuses on four inter-related issues:

  • measures to contain COVID-19 and mitigate its impact in the areas of social life, education, work, and freedom of movement, as well as asylum and migration;
  • the impact of the virus and efforts to limit its spread on particular groups in society;
  • incidents of xenophobic and racist discrimination, including hate crime;
  • the spread of disinformation concerning the outbreak and the implications of related containment measures on data protection and privacy.

Reunite Families UK Website

Reunite Families UK is the only support and campaign group that focuses solely on the impact of Spouse visa rules on families. We have an ever-growing membership and many case studies that highlight the brutal and cruel fallouts of these rules. These are honest, genuine and loving couples and families who, during this time of Covid, have now been plunged into even further uncertainty as they face an immigration system that is not giving them any clarity on where they stand within this. With so much at stake they want to ensure they are within the perimeters of their visas and that common sense concessions and a renewed look at the rules as they stand right now (and beyond) and put in place a plan that means they don’t fall foul of the Home Office further down the line when we are out of this.

"Covid Care and the Human Condition" Conversations with IRiS (Youtube, 06/05/2020)

Lyndsey Stonebridge talks to Les Back, professor of sociology at Goldsmiths, in the first episode of "Conversations with Iris", a new Zoomcast series produced by the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRIS) at the University of Birmingham, UK. The series is edited by Stefano Piemontese and Nando Sigona.

COVID-19 and Human Rights - We are all in this together (United Nations Report, April 2020)

Human rights are key in shaping the pandemic response, both for the public health emergency and the broader impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. Human rights put people centre-stage. Responses that are shaped by and respect human rights result in better outcomes in beating the pandemic, ensuring healthcare for everyone and preserving human dignity. But they also focus our attention on who is suffering most, why, and what can be done about it. They prepare the ground now for emerging from this crisis with more equitable and sustainable societies, development and peace.

Borders, Politics, and Pandemics: The Risks of Technosolutionism in the Time of COVID-19 by Petra Molnar (Human Movement Blog, 22/05/2020)
As the ‘Feared Outsiders’, refugees, immigrants, and people on the move have long been linked with bringing disease and illness across borders. Not only are these links blatantly incorrect, but they also legitimize far-reaching state incursions and increasingly hard-line policies of surveillance and novel technical ‘solutions’ to manage migration.

These practices have become all the more apparent in the current global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Link: Centre Blog Post


 2.      Health Care and Migrants

Ontario Expands Coverage for Care, Enhanced Health Care Coverage Critical to Support Efforts to Contain COVID-19 (News Release, Ontario Ministry of Health, 20 Mar 2020)

Some good news/inspiration from Ontario

Undocumented migrants dying of coronavirus because they’re too afraid to seek help, MPs and charities warn by May Bulman (The Independent, 17 Apr 2020)

Undocumented migrants are dying from Covid-19 because they are too afraid to seek help, charities and MPs have warned amid renewed calls for the Home Office to suspend NHS immigration checks.
Read in:

Survey calling for an end to NHS charging and data sharing with the Home Office

Doctors of the World, with the British Medical Association, and the Royal College of Physicians have put out this letter calling for an end to NHS charging and data sharing with the Home Office. They are asking people to sign - as individuals and as organisations. We've signed as Migrants Organise and in individual capacity. Please sign and share

Third of critically ill COVID-19 UK patients from BME backgrounds by Aina Khan (Aljazeera, 07 Apr 2020)

Release of figures comes amid wider concerns coronavirus is exacerbating health inequalities in the country.

Refugee and migrant health in the COVID-19 response by Hans Henri P Kluge Zsuzsanna Jakab Jozef Bartovic Veronika D'Anna Santino Severoni (The Lancet, 18 Apr 2020)

In a continued effort to curb the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), countries have been tightening borders and putting travel restrictions in place. These actions have affected refugees and migrants worldwide. The International Organization for Migration and UNHCR announced on March 10, 2020, that resettlement travel for refugees will be temporarily suspended, although the agencies have appealed to states to ensure emergency cases are exempted.1

 The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted some countries to take steps towards further reducing population movement that affects humanitarian corridors around the world. At the same time, there could be cases of refoulement with asylum seekers being returned to their countries of origin, where they are at risk of persecution and in an apparent breach of international law. As of March 29, 2020, WHO reported 146 countries and territories with cases of COVID-19 from local transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, many of which have large refugee populations.2

‘The NHS needs them’: UK urged to join countries mobilising migrant medics by Karen McVeigh and Sam Jones (The Guardian, 08 Apr 2020)

As several countries relax immigration rules for medically-trained refugees and migrants in the wake of coronavirus, campaigners are calling for Britain to follow suit

Asylum seekers making masks in effort to stop spread of Covid-19 by Barry Roche (The Irish Times, 13 Apr 2020)

Cork-based Sanctuary Mask Initiative providing protective gear to DP centres and nursing homes

After this crisis, remember the NHS is not drained by migrants, but sustained by them by Nesrine Malik (The Guardian, 6 Apr 2020)

The country must not forget Amged el-Hawrani and other foreign-born health workers who have died on the frontline

COVID-19 impact on zoonotic disease risk solutions in displaced populations by Dorien Braam (Human Movement Blog, 12/05/2020)

COVID-19 will have a significant impact on refugee and other displaced populations worldwide beyond health. If policies and responses are not carefully contextualized, these risk increasing people’s vulnerabilities, not only to disease but to (further) displacement. Socio-economic and health inequalities need to be addressed to prevent negative coping mechanisms to zoonoses such as environmental degradation and conflict, which may in turn cause more displacement and health risks.

Migrant workers and Covid-19 by Catherine Barnard and Fiona Costello (The UK in a Changing Europe Website, 28/03/2020)

An IPPR report released this week examining the impact of the coronavirus on migrant workers highlighted the fact that they are more likely to be in more precarious employment arrangements (such as zero hour contracts), and to live in rented, overcrowded accommodation.

Working conditions of migrant ‘key workers’ in the Covid-19 crisis by Catherine Barnard and Fiona Costello (The UK in a Changing Europe Website, 08/04/2020)

Many migrant workers, previously described as working in ‘unskilled’ labour positions, have found their work promoted to ‘key worker’ status during the current coronavirus crisis. More often than not, ‘unskilled’ meant underpaid and undervalued. What a difference a month can make.

Coronavirus: More bereaved families of NHS staff can stay in UK (BBC News, 21 May 2020)

The families of overseas NHS support staff and care workers who have died with coronavirus can stay in the UK permanently.

The Home Office bereavement scheme had previously only applied to certain professions, such as nurses.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has extended it to cover cleaners, porters and other low-paid roles after pressure from Labour and the unions.


3.     Covid-19 in Detention Centres, Refugee Camps and Migrant Worker Settings

Mapping the Impact of Covid-19 on displaced Communities (Techfugees Data Hub)

Covid-19 cases in displaced communities. An open & crowd-sourced database updated by volunteer contributors across the world from partner organisations.

Preparedness, prevention and control of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for refugees and migrants in non-camp settings (WHO report, 17 Apr 2020)

Coronavirus: Singapore's migrant workers 'living in fear' Edited by Christine Hah (BBC, 22 Apr 2020)

the new issue now globally are the migrant workers hostels where for example in Singapore, the infections are rising in a second wave.

Global Conversations: Migrant Workers in the Gulf Region with Mr Froilan Mallit (Human Movement Website, 05 May 2020)

Mr Froilan Malit, a migration specialist at Gulf Labour Markets and Migration, joined us from Dubai for this virtual seminar. Froilan has worked for many years across the Gulf region with migrant workers, consulates and international organisations and has extensive experience in the protection of the rights of migrant workers. He explored with us the situation of migrant workers in the Gulf region, with a focus on coping and survival strategies of migrant workers during Covid-19 as well as the impact of Covid-19 on migration governance in the wider Gulf region.


4.    Global Migration, Aid, and Covid

Migration Policy Practice (Vol. X, Number 2, April–June 2020) (IOM Publications, 2020)

For many years researchers have talked about the “Age of Migration”, an era when more and more people were on the move. Suddenly within the space of less than two months movements across most borders have almost ceased completely – and policymakers are faced with the challenge of managing migration during a period of immobility. According to IOM, as of 23 April 2020, a total of 215 countries, territories and areas had implemented a total of 52,262 restrictive measures.

How will the pandemic and new restrictions on movements affect global migration?

Based on 11 contributions by several senior officials and experts from international organizations, NGOs and academia, this special issue of Migration Policy Practice discusses the emerging effects of COVID-19 for migrants and migration policy worldwide from a range of perspectives including the humanitarian, economic and data-related implications of the new pandemic.

Free Download of Issue:

UNHCR Global COVID-19 Emergency Response Report, (Reliefweb site, 22 June 2020)


  • While the Americas and South Asia now account for almost 50 per cent of all COVID-19 cases globally, the WHO warns that the pandemic is also accelerating in Africa and the Middle East.

  • UNHCR’s Global Trends for 2019 reports that forced displacement now affects more than one per cent of humanity – 1 in every 97 people – and fewer and fewer are able to return home.
    COVID-19 exacerbates their situation even more, as it has an unprecedented global social and economic impact and is also affecting asylum systems. Under the theme ‘Everyone can make a difference, Every Action Counts’, UNHCR marked World Refugee Day on 20 June 2020.

  • In Latin America which accounts for nearly half of the deaths and cases worldwide, the combination of the hurricane season in the north of Central America and COVID-19 is exacerbating humanitarian needs. To combat these emergencies, UNHCR in El Salvador, together with the joint response team provided aid to 1,150 communities and information to 1.2 million people, while in Guatemala, UNHCR delivered bulk beds and mattresses to shelters.

  • In the DRC, interactive radio programmes were broadcast on prevention measures as well as peaceful coexistence issues related to COVID-19, reaching nearly 1.5 million listeners

Full report: here

IOM launches online course on Counter trafficking in humanitarian settings (IOM Website, 23 Jun 2020)

One of the most neglected protection issues in emergencies is human trafficking. Often viewed as a pre-existing problem and not as a direct consequence of conflict or natural disaster, trafficking remains largely unaddressed during emergencies. For traffickers around the world, each disaster signals a sudden availability of potential prey. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is launching an online training course on Countering Human Trafficking in Humanitarian Settings. The course, which has been developed by IOM experts in partnership with the US Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons is designed for external audiences who may be familiar with humanitarian responses but are less familiar with anti-trafficking interventions in emergency contexts.

Global remittances to decline (Worldbank Report, 22 Apr 2020)

Global remittances are projected to decline sharply by about 20 percent in 2020 due to the economic crisis induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown. The projected fall, which would be the sharpest decline in recent history, is largely due to a fall in the wages and employment of migrant workers, who tend to be more vulnerable to loss of employment and wages during an economic crisis in a host country. Remittances to low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are projected to fall by 19.7 percent to $445 billion, representing a loss of a crucial financing lifeline for many vulnerable households.

These COVID-19 Analytical Snapshots are designed to capture the latest information and analysis in a fast-moving environment. Topics will be repeated from time to time as analysis develops. If you have an item to include, please email us at (International Organization for Migration (IOM) Reports)



5.      Donations, Volunteering and Help

Survey calling for an end to NHS charging and data sharing with the Home Office

Doctors of the World, with the British Medical Association, and the Royal College of Physicians have put out this letter calling for an end to NHS charging and data sharing with the Home Office. They are asking people to sign - as individuals and as organisations. We've signed as Migrants Organise and in individual capacity. Please sign and share

Migrants Organise: Covid-19 Emergency Appeal

We are assisting the hardest hit in this terrible pandemic - migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers who don't have safety nets of support.

We have set up a hardship fund for our destitute members who are adversely affected by the pandemic restrictions of movement and reductions of services. Many are homeless or live in shared accommodation, with no family or friends to look after them in case they need help. At best they have access to only £5 per day for all their needs. We are sending them money for food, toiletries and phone credit so that they can survive, access support and feel less isolated. 

 If you are able to support by donating, please do so online here

Plan International - COVID-19 Pandemic Appeal

Please help them support the most vulnerable children affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. They hope to raise €100 million

Cancel the Debt Petition (Oxfam)

This is a global public health emergency bigger than anything humanity has ever seen. Governments all over the world must make a huge investment in scaling up public healthcare now for all their people. Healthcare is a right and should be free. Rich nations should help pay for this by immediately cancelling the debt payments of developing countries. This will release billions of dollars that can pay for vital healthcare. Many governments are currently spending far more on repaying debts than they do on health. To prevent millions of deaths this injustice has to end now.

Covid-19 Our work around the world (Oxfam)

Oxfam are deeply concerned about how coronavirus will affect people living through conflict, disaster and poverty. Oxfam’s humanitarian staff and partners are working hard to help stop the spread. We’re providing vital support like handwashing facilities, clean water, toilets and soap in the most vulnerable communities. More info and to donate here:

COVID-19 Fundraising Appeal (UNICEF)

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has triggered an unprecedented global health, humanitarian, socio-economic and human rights crisis, exacerbating the vulnerabilities of affected children. Since the outbreak began in December 2019, the coronavirus has spread to over 215 countries and territories, with over 247,500 reported deaths and 3.6 million confirmed cases.1 While children seem to be less vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus itself, the collateral impact on children is considerable. UNICEF is revising its COVID-19 appeal2 to meet the needs of children, communities, health systems and health structures, protect against the disease and address its immediate health and socio-economic impacts.

More info and to donate here: