Data innovation for migration: why now and how?

By Marzia Rango, Data Innovation and Capacity-Building Coordinator at the Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), IOM – UN Migration, and Michele Vespe, European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC), Demography, Migration and Governance Unit, Big Data for Migration Alliance (BD4M)

Now more than ever we need to invest in responsible data innovation for the analysis of mobility and migration

The impact of COVID-19 on the production of migration statistics around the world has been severe, particularly across low- and middle-income countries. In Africa, where national population censuses and household surveys are the main sources of data on migration, travel restrictions, lockdown measures and closure of government offices have heavily affected the ability to collect data from these sources, delaying the (already infrequent) production of migration statistics. The same has occurred in some European countries. And even in countries that were able to switch to remote modalities for data collection, challenges persisted, particularly in terms of the quality of data. Meanwhile, only just over a third of the 47 African countries surveyed in May 2020 reported using sources other than traditional ones.

One of the UN Secretary General report’s (“From Promise to Action:  The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration”) key recommendations is to ‘strengthen evidence-based discourse on migration.’ But how to do so when even basic facts about migration in many countries around the world are largely unknown, because capacities to collect, or properly analyse and disseminate reliable statistics are extremely modest? And when a global pandemic further limits the availability of data from traditional sources?

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COVID-19 and the Kafala system: protecting African female migrant workers in Gulf countries

By Mona Ahmed, Junior Policy Analyst, OECD Development Centre

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected women and men differently depending on the sector they work in, their employment situation and their access to labour and social protection measures. Domestic and care work, traditionally female-dominated, form one of the most marginalised, undervalued and least protected employment sectors. It therefore comes as no surprise that the current crisis has not reinvented the wheel, but rather amplified persistent vulnerabilities faced by female migrant workers.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are home to the world’s largest number of international labour migrants. According to a study carried out by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), 12% of the 28.1 million migrant workers in GCC countries in 2017 were African, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait hosting almost 90 percent. Historically a destination for South and Southeast Asian workers, the growing demand in domestic labour has attracted a considerable number of East and West African women, mostly from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana. Despite their economic contribution in both origin and destination countries, the duties of child and elderly care, cleaning and food preparation are culturally devalued and receive limited social recognition.  

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Migration is a force for development (and vice versa): it’s time we tell this story right

By Gonzalo Fanjul, Co-founder and Head of Research at por Causa Foundation

There is a dangerous contradiction in the prevailing narrative on migration and development. Despite the fact that international labour mobility has proven to be one of the most effective and powerful levers for individual and collective progress, many development co-operation actors treat migration as a problem that must be solved. This logic responds to the myth of ‘root causes’: human mobility as a mere escape from poverty and the lack of opportunities, rather than as an effective strategy against them. Migrants are victims who must be rescued from their own decisions, and aid is an adequate tool to do so.

The political advantage of this narrative is unbeatable. A wide part of the more centered ideological spectrum – from social democracy to liberals to the moderate right – can take refuge in it to whitewash a model obsessed with border impermeability, which too often violates the boundaries of a liberal democracy. The proposal for the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, presented by the European Commission last September, is one of the most recent and worrying examples in this regard.

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Protecting migrant workers in the Gulf: don’t build back better over a poor foundation

By Vani Saraswathi, Editor-at-Large and Director of Projects, Migrant-Rights.Org

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states need to completely revamp past policies, and not merely attempt to bridge gaps or provide a salve to deep wounds.

Construction workers in Dubai, UAE. Photo: LongJon / Shutterstock

As of February 2020, millions of migrants –– primarily from South and Southeast Asia and increasingly from East African countries –– were holding up Gulf economies, working in sectors and for wages unappealing to the more affluent citizens. In countries with per capita GDP of US$62,000 or more, minimum wages ranged as low as US$200 per month.

Men were packed into portacabins and decrepit buildings, six to a room if lucky, hidden behind screens of dust and grime, away from the smart buildings they built and shiny glasses they cleaned. The women were trapped 24/7 in homes that are their workplaces, every movement monitored. It is accepted and normalised without question that these men and women will leave behind their families in the hopes of building a better future for themselves. That they may live all their productive life in a strange country, excluded from social security benefits and denied all rights of belonging, is seen as a small price to pay for the supposed fiscal benefits. The fact that the price is too steep is rarely discussed.

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Inequalities and international migration: securing benefits for all post COVID-19

By Jason Gagnon, Development economist, OECD Development Centre

Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, May 2020. Indian migrant laborers leaving the the city due to lockdown. Photo: Mukesh Kumar Jwala / Shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned international migration on its head. According to the United Nations, there were 272 million international migrants in the world in 2019, reflecting a steady rise over the years, reaching 3.5% of the global population. However, since the start of the crisis, migration has decreased significantly. Due to restrictions, admission of foreigners to OECD countries has fallen by 46%. In the Gulf Co-operation Council countries, and many other parts of the world, the trends point in the same direction. The general fall in migration flows is likely to continue in 2021.

There have been countless takes on the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on migrants. The pandemic has also exposed the extent to which many countries heavily rely on migrants as core cogs in their economic engines, their food security and in filling skills gaps. Not to mention the intangible cultural goods that societies benefit from in all parts of society, through food, festivals and art. But how will COVID-19 impact the future of international migration?

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Public health and migration: from the Postcolonial era to COVID-19

By Ranabir Samaddar, Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, Calcutta Research Group


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.

Photo: Juan Alberto Casado, Shutterstock

I wrote The Postcolonial Age of Migration in 2016-2019. It came out just two months ago as the pandemic continued (and continues) to rage in India and around the world. Global mobility came to a screeching halt and I have not yet seen the book in print. Locked down in my house and aware that the book had come out, I was driven to reflect on what I had written: did I do justice to our age, which I had described as the postcolonial age of migration? The book time and again goes back to colonial histories of war, plunder, changes in land use pattern, peasant dispossession, primitive accumulation, and their continuities in our time. Against this backdrop, the book discusses how the colonial practices of violence and border building are being reproduced today on a global scale. Wars, famines, and ecological changes are major driving factors behind migration and forced migration flows today. They also influence patterns of labour mobility. Yet as I reflected, the overwhelming reality of the COVID-19 pandemic brought home the realisation that the book does not account for epidemiological disasters as an integral part of the colonial history of migration and the postcolonial age of migration. The absence of any concern for migrant workers and refugees in public health structures should have been discussed. The book speaks of refugees’ health concerns in camps, yet the broader perspective of migrants and public health is absent.

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We need a more globalised response to pandemics for immigrant integration

By Tahseen Shams, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that what happens in a faraway land does not stop at its borders but can produce domino effects forceful enough to lock down the entire world. How have we as a globalised society responded to this moment with regards to immigrant integration?

Not well. Immigrants, long singled-out as disease carriers, are again being blamed for the world’s epidemic. Because the Coronavirus originated in China, xenophobia has now turned its gaze on those perceived as Asian immigrants. Pre-existing anti-Chinese racism, for instance, has spiked in the United States even though the virus that led to the outbreak in New York, which has the largest U.S. death toll, came from Europe. Anti-immigrant xenophobia has risen in general despite immigrants comprising the bulk of our essential workforce. Right-wing advocates, based on what could only be described as poorly disguised racism, are using the pandemic as evidence of the dangers of immigration. Their fearmongering taps into the public’s fears and suspicion towards “foreigners”—a label that never seems to detach itself from immigrants and their descendants. Social media, fake news, and political discourse are also helping to depict immigrants as foreigners who bring dangers from faraway lands into our country.

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How COVID-19 is affecting Egypt’s migrants and refugees

By the Centre for Migration and Refugee Studies (CMRS), the American University in Cairo (AUC)


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.
This blog is also a part of a thread looking more specifically at the impacts of and responses to the COVID-19 crisis on migration and developing countries.


Egypt-covid-19Egypt has one of the highest numbers of cases of COVID-19 in the African continent and as of August 5th, reported 94,875 cases, 4,930 deaths, and 47,182 recoveries. To curb the spread of the virus, borders and entry and exit pathways quickly closed in March, as international airports shut down to most air traffic, as did the land border crossing with Sudan. Since then Cairo International airport has re-opened as of July 1st. Egypt is a country of 100 million people with around 259,900 refugees and asylum-seekers officially registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It also hosts an unspecified large number of unregistered asylum-seekers and refugees. Many of these refugees see Egypt as a transit country until they have the means to make an onward journey or to be resettled in the EU, US, Australia, or Canada. However, many of them end up staying in Egypt for years, contributing to the local economy. One impact of COVID-19 is that many of those waiting to be resettled, have now been left in limbo in their country of asylum. While the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR recently announced the re-opening of international resettlement, many travel restrictions remain in place.

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COVID-19 crisis: Why we must prioritise mental health of the world’s displaced

By Shaifali Sandhya, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Care Family Consultation


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


Deprsession-shutterstock_332939864The modern world is in an unprecedented situation. In the last decade, the global population of the forcibly displaced has swelled to 70.8 million; with the advent of COVID-19, its numbers are expected to soar as a staggering number of refugee and asylum-seeker families find themselves further displaced by fear of disease, food insecurity and by the pressures of collapsing national economies. In many countries displaced communities’ access to labour markets is limited to the informal market, and equally vulnerable will be nations’ shadow workers – garbage workers, prostitutes, domestic help, garment makers, and gig workers. Faced with an economic crisis of cataclysmic proportions, economists and political leaders will be tempted to focus solely on the physical and economic facets of the current crisis.  But if we want to make it through this crisis, that won’t be enough.  In addition to financial and physical wellbeing we will need to recognize and address mental health around the world and at every level of society, especially of its displaced communities. We are at best, unprepared for the worst; for both OECD and developing countries, we need to provide tailored mental health treatment to those who need it in the communities they live in. Continue reading

COVID-19 : conséquences pour les migrations internationales et le développement

Par Jason Gagnon, Économiste du développement, Centre de développement de l’OCDE


Ce blog fait partie d’une série sur la lutte contre le COVID-19 dans les pays en voie de développement. Visitez la page dédiée de l’OCDE pour accéder aux données, analyses et recommandations de l’OCDE sur les impacts sanitaires, économiques, financiers et sociétaux de COVID-19 dans le monde.


Immigration-coronavirus

(Read this blog in English)

Bien que la pandémie de COVID-19 ne soit pas un problème de migration, elle est perçue et gérée comme tel. Le discours exploitant la peur face à la crise pourrait donner de l’espace aux politiques structurelles anti-migration. Ce qui nuirait aux droits et à la santé des migrants, et à leur impact positif sur le développement : en 2017, environ 258 millions de migrants internationaux ont comblé les pénuries de main-d’œuvre et contribué au transfert de compétences, de biens et de services indispensables dans le monde entier.

Nous avons fait des progrès remarquables pour renforcer la gouvernance des migrations. Mais si les droits des migrants ne sont pas protégés face à la crise du Covid-19 à court et à long terme, les avancées pourraient être réduites, mettant les migrants et leurs familles, ainsi que certains des fondements de notre économie mondiale, en danger. Continue reading