Pluralism and the Pandemic: Migration and Refugees

Migration and Refugees

The pandemic will likely reshape migration flows and patterns for years to come and in ways that we could not have previously imagined. Border closures, an increase in mobility restrictions at both national and local levels, and soaring unemployment rates have curbed, and will continue to limit, migration around the world. Lack of employment, paired with increased populist-nationalistic rhetoric and instances of discrimination are resulting in mass numbers of migrants moving back, or trying to go back, to their countries or places of origin.

For displaced people, refugees, undocumented migrants and those living and working in poor conditions, the pandemic has exposed the extreme vulnerabilities of their circumstances. Examples include Rohingya refugees being turned away from ports in Malaysia; Canada refusing asylum seekers at the border with the United States; refugees living in camps and other overcrowded settings facing a heightened risk of COVID-19; and undocumented migrants and their families hesitating to access healthcare services due to fear of deportation or family separation. Sustained unemployment may limit migrant workers’ ability to contribute to poverty reduction in their home countries through remittances sent back home.

On the other hand, the pandemic is increasing awareness about the valuable contributions made by migrants. In the United States, the food supply would be significantly disrupted without the labour of temporary foreign workers. In Gulf countries, the construction and energy sectors would collapse without migrants. More than 1,000 asylum seekers work as caregivers for the elderly in long-term care homes hard hit by the virus in Québec. In Germany, medical doctors that arrived to the country as refugees, are stepping up to alleviate the country’s shortage of physicians. Recognizing the need to make healthcare accessible to all, Portugal temporarily gave full citizenship rights to all migrants and asylum seekers

In this section, we ask practitioners and experts to reflect on the impacts of COVID-19 on the relationships between migrants and host societies. We look at some of the challenges faced by these groups while exploring the potential for greater social cohesion post-pandemic.