Impacts of COVID-19 on Myanmar Migrants
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on Myanmar migrants, with migrants facing the same health threats from COVID-19 as non-migrants, as well as being particularly vulnerable to the many disruptions of the pandemic. Myanmar has always had high rates of mobility and an estimated 25 per cent of its population (Myanmar Govt. 2014 Census) consists of migrants – approximately 9.39 million internal, and 4.25 million international migrants, including 3 million in Thailand alone, underlining the centrality of migration as a poverty reduction strategy for many Myanmar families. However, measures put in place to control disease transmission both in Myanmar and in neighboring countries have resulted in disrupted mobility and labour markets that employ migrants, with the associated decline in remittances hitting the livelihoods of families of migrants particularly hard – IOM estimates that remittances may decrease by up to 100 million USD in 2020. The resulting re-migration into Myanmar of thousands of Myanmar migrants in response to the economic slowdown also presents unique challenges, including adding pressure to limited COVID-19 surveillance resources at points of entry, potentially driving viral transmission to areas with reduced health response capacities, as well as heightening the risk of transmission among returnees in crowded border entry points and quarantine facilities.
As of 10 June 2020, a total of 96,758 (approximately 65% male, 35% female) have returned through official land border checkpoints from Thailand and China since mid-March, according to the Department of Labour (DOL). This includes 28,356 migrants returning from China since 1 May through border checkpoints in Kachin and Shan states, and increasing number of returns from Thailand as part of a ‘second wave’ of returns beginning on 23 May. However, based on additional data made available by State and Regional Governments, IOM estimates that the real number of returns may be considerably higher, taking into account both regular and irregular returns since the onset of the pandemic. There are no figures on the number of Myanmar nationals still stranded abroad, but there are anecdotal reports of up to several hundred thousand Myanmar migrants having lost their jobs in Thailand alone as a result of the pandemic. The state of emergency in Thailand and intermittent land border closures with Thailand and China have temporarily slowed the number of returns. But remaining abroad for many international migrant workers means living with no job, no income and no food. Such challenging circumstances means that Myanmar labour migrants will likely continue returning both through official and unofficial channels. At the same time, Myanmar is likely to continue being a major source country for out-migration in the region, with Thai authorities estimating that over 65,000 Myanmar migrants intend to re-migrate to Thailand once mobility restrictions are lifted. However, out-migration from Myanmar is unlikely to simply pick up from where it left off prior to the COVID pandemic – mobility is likely to be restricted to varying degrees, with additional requirements (e.g. health certificates), increased risk of stigma, social exclusion or discrimination, and increased vulnerability to a range of risk factors for exploitation or trafficking.
- IOM’s COVID-19 Response
In coordination and partnership with relevant actors at global, regional and national levels, IOM Myanmar is contributing to the overall objective of the COVID-19 Global Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan to halt further transmission of COVID-19 and mitigate the impact of the outbreak, including its socioeconomic impacts.
IOM believes that preparedness and response plans need to be responsive to population mobility and cross-border dynamics, and inclusive approaches that take into account migrants, travelers, displaced populations and local communities, and counter misinformation that can lead to anti-migrant sentiment and xenophobia, are essential in the event of an outbreak.
IOM’s approach for preparing and responding to disease outbreaks and future health threats is anchored in IOM’s Health, Border and Mobility Management (HBMM) Framework. The framework links an understanding of population mobility with disease surveillance, and provides a platform to develop country-specific and multi-country interventions emphasizing health system strengthening along mobility corridors.
In addition, IOM’s response is part of the UN Country Team’s three workstreams, health, humanitarian and socioeconomic.
IOM is also chairing the UN Core Group on Returning Migrants and leading efforts to:
- Strengthen understanding and collective advocacy relating to the mobility dimension of the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Promote a migration- and gender-sensitive COVID response in policy and programming at Union and State/Regional level through provision of technical expertise, guidance and advocacy to relevant actors and coordination mechanisms, and;
- Support a mainstreamed and coordinated approach to the provision of rights-based assistance to returning international and internal migrants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
IOM Responding to COVID-19
Since January 2020, and in line with WHO recommendations, IOM’s global workforce has been mobilized across the world to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing down on decades of experience, most recently with the Ebola epidemic, and working with dozens of governments to plan their responses and save lives as the global health crisis evolves into the most significant mobility crisis ever.