Migrants, the Backbone of Ukrainian Economy, Require Support in Times of COVID-19 – IOM Report

A Ukrainian border guard consults a migrant at the border with Hungary, a popular destination for migrant workers. Photo: State Border Guard Service of Ukraine  

A traveller’s temperature measured by a border guard. Photo: State Border Guard Service of Ukraine 

Kyiv – “Migrants are the backbone of the Ukrainian economy,” affirms Anh Nguyen, Chief of Mission at IOM Ukraine. He explains: “Private remittances sent to Ukraine equal to more than 10 per cent of GDP, and a large share of this money comes from migrant workers, allowing their families to cover their basic needs including food, rent, education and health care.” 

Today IOM is concerned about conditions impacting an estimated 350,000–400,000 Ukrainian migrant workers who came home following announcements of quarantine or lockdowns in their countries of destination as well as in Ukraine itself.  

As IOM Ukraine forecasts in a newly published analysis, implications of COVID-19 travel restrictions will remain extremely challenging not only at the individual, but at the local and national level as well. 

The National Bank of Ukraine estimates the decrease in remittances this year will reach at least USD 2 billion, triggering major ripple effects across entire local economies and communities. 

Oleksii* came back to Ukraine in mid-March, staying since then in the western city of Uzhhorod. The migrant worker is one of the thousands stuck home with no job and no possibility to leave for work abroad due to the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions.  

“I expected to find a new job in Hungary soon, but in a few days the border was closed, and I got stuck here with no money, no job and no prospects,” he explained. Before that, he said, he was cheated.  

“They promised me a salary of EUR 2,000 per month when I was heading to work on a private construction site in Vienna but paid only EUR 50 per week,” he recalled. “After a month it turned out my contract was not valid, and the police said that I had to leave the country.” 

Many migrants who chose to stay abroad as the quarantine progressed reported challenges due to employment loss or complications related to extension of work and residence permits. Many also reported the inability to access social services.  

Seasonal workers, too, have been affected. According to IOM estimates, this past spring about 300,000–350,000 were unable to return to jobs abroad.  Moreover, as Ukraine’s domestic labour market was not ready to accept all this workforce, migrants often relied largely on savings.  

IOM’s response includes additional humanitarian assistance and equipment for self-employment, mental health and psychosocial support for the most affected populations. IOM has provided personal protective equipment to border guards for processing Ukrainian nationals entering from abroad as well as civilians crossing the entry-exit points at the contact line in Ukraine’s Eastern Conflict Area.  

Since March 2020, the IOM-supported national toll-free counter-trafficking and migrant advice hotline receives on average 1,000 calls per month related to COVID-19 movement restrictions.  

Stated IOM Ukraine CoM Anh Nguyen:  “As this current environment is also an opportunity to reimagine how migration can be governed in a more effective way, globally and in Ukraine, IOM is prepared to support the Ukrainian Government in considering proactive and timely facilitation of travel for migrant workers to host countries, while adhering to national health regulations and WHO recommendations.”  

*Name has been changed to protect privacy 

For more information please contact Varvara Zhluktenko at IOM Ukraine, Tel: + 38 044 568 50 15, +38 067 447 97 92, Email: