Understanding migration as an asset: the Colombian case

By Adriana Mejía Hernández, Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs of the Republic of Colombia

The massive exodus of Venezuelan migrants is the world’s second largest migration wave and is unprecedented in the history of Latin America. Colombia, host to almost 30% of Venezuelan migrants, responded with comprehensive measures and most importantly, has approached the mass arrivals of migrants as an opportunity for development and growth. However, the lack of identity documents and irregular status of migrants are the source of many challenges to achieving an effective state response.

The Colombian case is particular. During the 1990s thousands of Colombian nationals migrated to Venezuela making Colombia the country of origin. Nonetheless, the worsening of the social and economic conditions in Venezuela caused a reversal of the migration dynamics between the two countries. As of 2015, Colombia began to receive flows of regular migration that later, in 2019, were surpassed by the number of irregular migrants crossing into national territory, through various pathways along the border, risking their lives and belongings along the way.

The dramatic circumstances that irregular migrants have to face make them more vulnerable to suffering from human rights violations, including sexual or gender-based violence, discrimination, xenophobia, labour exploitation, as well as migratory-related crimes like human trafficking or migrant smuggling. They are more likely to fall victims to criminal acts, or even, in some cases, of becoming involved themselves in criminality due to a lack of job opportunities or access to basic services.

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Urban migration and COVID-19: Cities on the frontline of an inclusive response and recovery

By Samer Saliba, Head of Practice, Mayors Migration Council

Photo: Manoej Paateel / Shutterstock

The international community is not doing enough to financially support those who are doing the most for migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people during this global pandemic: city governments. While many cities have the mandate to serve people in vulnerable situations, including migrant and displaced residents, they often do not have enough financial resources to meet the increased demand and need of new arrivals. Lost revenue due to the economic impacts of COVID-19 will further curtail cities’ ability to deliver critical services to their residents this year. Some estimates suggest city governments could see revenue losses of up to 25 percent in 2021, precisely when their spending needs to increase to pay for recovery efforts and continuously growing populations. In a recent survey, 33 municipal finance officials in 22 countries across all continents reported already seeing a 10 percent decrease in their overall revenue and around a five percent increase in expenditure. This “scissors effect” of local government revenue and expenditure will be most felt in cities in developing countries. African cities, for example,  could potentially lose up to up to 65 percent of their revenue in 2021.

While the international community is paying more attention to municipal finance in relation to climate change, sustainable development, and urban development in general, the same cannot be said of urban migration and displacement. Few municipal finance mechanisms focus explicitly on financing for urban migration and displacement, despite the fact that the majority of migrants and displaced people reside in cities. Moreover, donors with low risk tolerance often disregard city governments in low to middle-income countries. In response to the unmet needs of cities, my organisation, the Mayors Migration Council (MMC), recently launched the Global Cities Fund on Inclusive Pandemic Response supporting five cities to implement inclusive response and recovery programmes of their own design.

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Inégalités et migrations internationales : garantir des avantages pour tous dans l’après-pandémie

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

Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, mai 2020 : Les travailleurs migrants indiens quittent la ville en raison du confinment. Photo: Mukesh Kumar Jwala / Shutterstock

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La pandémie de COVID-19 a bouleversé les migrations internationales. Selon les Nations Unies, on comptait 272 millions de migrants internationaux dans le monde en 2019, soit 3.5 % de la population mondiale, ce qui reflétait une augmentation constante au fil des ans. Cependant, depuis le début de la crise, les migrations ont considérablement diminué. En raison des restrictions, l’accueil d’étrangers dans les pays de l’OCDE a chuté de 46 %. Dans les pays du Conseil de coopération du Golfe (CCG), et dans de nombreuses autres régions du monde, les tendances vont dans le même sens. Et la baisse générale des flux migratoires devrait se poursuivre en 2021.

Les répercussions disproportionnées de la crise du COVID-19 sur les migrants sont innombrables. La pandémie a également montré à quel point de nombreux pays dépendent fortement des migrants pour faire fonctionner leur économie, assurer leur sécurité alimentaire  et combler leur déficit de compétences. Sans parler des biens culturels immatériels dont bénéficient les sociétés dans tous les domaines, que ce soit en termes d’alimentation, d’événements culturels et d’art. Mais quel sera l’impact du COVID-19 sur l’avenir des migrations internationales ?

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COVID-19, an opportunity to build back better for women migrant workers

By Dr. Jean D’Cunha, Senior Global Advisor on International Migration, UN Women

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the systemic inequalities in our societal fabric and ethic that largely function off intersecting forms of discrimination, especially for women migrant workers. Women and girls constitute nearly half of the 272 million international migrants, and a large number of internal migrants. 8.5 million of the 11.8 million overseas migrant domestic workers and a majority of the 56 million local domestic workers worldwide are women. Women, comprise 70 percent of the global health workforce at the frontlines of response, many of whom are migrants.

Moreover, women’s contribution to all types of care, including unpaid care, amounts to $11 trillion globally (9 percent of global GDP). Protecting women and migrant women workers’ rights and supporting their full potential is critical to economic recovery. Despite this, economic packages invest inadequately in migrant women’s priorities, even though evidence also shows that the socio-economic impacts of the crisis are worse for women.

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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

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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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