Empowering Migrants is Key to COVID-19 Recovery

Joint press release UNDP–IOM

Geneva – A joint research by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) conducted in nine countries shows that the pandemic has increased poverty and unemployment for many migrants and their families. Data collected in Bangladesh, Belarus, El Salvador, Guinea, Indonesia, Kyrgyz Republic, Lesotho, the Republic of Moldova and Peru showed that travel restrictions have left a significant number of migrants stranded, with others forced to return to their home countries where they face hardship.

The heads of the two UN agencies emphasized migration’s prospective role in COVID-19 recovery at an online event held today to discuss how the pandemic has impacted migrant communities – and how the slowdown in migration due to travel restrictions has hurt economies and people. They further reiterated the need for migrants and migration to be part of COVID-19 recovery plans as countries rebuild their economies and societies after this crisis.

“Migration is interconnected with sustainable development at many levels, and it is clear that, without incorporating migrants and migration in all planning and programming, we cannot recover from COVID-19 and achieve the 2030 Agenda,” said IOM Director General António Vitorino.

“Critical to this is the inclusion of people on the move into global vaccination efforts. ... This is not only critical to ensure public health and reduce inequality, but to empower migrant contributions to the pandemic response.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a development crisis and exacerbated vulnerabilities in fragile, crisis-affected settings,” said the Administrator of the UN Development Programme, Achim Steiner,  echoing IOM. “Global efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger, improve health and education, and promote gender equality will simply not succeed if development plans and sectoral policies do not incorporate migrants.”

The study further shows that:

  • As many as 180,000 Indonesian migrant workers returned home in 2020, with 75 percent facing unemployment and some households seeing a 60 percent drop in income.
  • More than 150,000 of the Kyrgyz Republic’s 1 million migrants returned from working abroad in a context marked by the already-high unemployment and 10 percent contraction in the economy brought about by COVID-19, placing pressure on public services.
  • Increased discrimination and stigma among women in Kyrgyz Republic with 80 percent restricted from managing their own money by their families.
  • In La Unión in El Salvador, where much of the population works overseas and has since returned, one in three households had a family member who lost their job.

At the same time, migrants have played a key role in responding to the pandemic, especially in key sectors such as health care and agriculture as essential workers. Some of the worst-hit countries – including the United States, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Chile and Belgium – depend heavily on migrants for the provision of healthcare (OECD). In the UK, a third of doctors and a fifth of nurses are foreign-born (ONS). Other hard-hit countries also depend on migrants in service, sales, agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors.

Remittances – the money earned by migrants and sent home to their families – contribute enormously to economies and societies by paying for education, groceries and businesses and proved invaluable for saving lives during this pandemic. When investment and direct aid to low- and middle-income countries dried up, remittances did not.

It is therefore essential, say both IOM and UNDP, for national and local authorities to include people on the move within their policies and plans for economic and social recovery. This must include plans to combat xenophobia and discrimination, as this also can damage economies and societies.

Both IOM and UNDP are working together to achieve this in several communities. Among some of the joint efforts discussed at the online event were projects that mitigate the hardships caused by the pandemic and enable migrants to contribute to their communities in meaningful ways.

To learn more about the UNDP-IOM seed funding initiative to fast-track joint response to the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19, please visit Migration for Development website. 


For further information, please contact:

Manuel Hoff, IOM HQ, Migration and Sustainable Development Unit, Email:

David Khoudour, UNDP HQ, Crisis Bureau - Recovery Solutions and Human Mobility Team, Email: