The COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights the Need for Sustainable Reintegration Strategies for Returning Migrants’ Communities and Countries
WASHINGTON — As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, millions of migrants were stranded in the countries where they work and live, and countless others were expelled or returned voluntarily to their countries of origin amid restrictions on mobility and widespread economic dislocation. Countless more migrants may yet return to their countries of origin as second and third waves of the outbreak are occurring.
Destination- and origin-country governments have engaged in chaotic and mixed policy responses to forced returns. Origin countries face the challenges of receiving returning nationals amid a public-health crisis and reintegrating them into communities and labor markets at a time of economic struggles. The experiences highlight the importance of countries along the migration continuum being better prepared for disruptions to migration patterns. A greater focus on sustainable reintegration is needed, not only for the current crisis but for the long term, Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysts argue in a new policy brief.
In Rewiring Migrant Returns and Reintegration after the COVID-19 Shock, Camille Le Coz and Kathleen Newland examine the effects of the pandemic on return, reception and reintegration. The brief also considers how to strengthen return infrastructure and partnerships between countries of origin and destination going forward.
While the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration recognized the need for international cooperation on return and reintegration, the global public-health crisis hit scarcely a year into its adoption. Governments rapidly closed borders and imposed travel restrictions in uncoordinated fashion even as many migrants were compelled to leave their jobs and, often, the countries in which they were living. And while some countries initially suspended forced removals, others exerted further pressure on origin countries by accelerating returns.
The reception of returning migrants has posed a daunting challenge. Few countries of origin, for example, had adequate quarantine facilities for returnees, and the crisis has demonstrated the importance of improving monitoring of returns and ensuring appropriate reception conditions.
Origin countries have also faced challenges reintegrating returning migrants into local communities and helping them re-establish livelihoods, with economic effects compounded by the loss of migrants’ remittances as well as the reallocation of humanitarian and development funds away from reintegration to support immediate COVID-19 responses.
Yet, the brief notes, some innovations have flourished during the crisis, including online training for returnees and efforts to reopen legal migration pathways in ways that are better managed and more respectful of workers’ rights. The authors suggest the pandemic has spotlighted the need for a broadened definition of reintegration.
“The focus of reintegration programs is often on returnees themselves, but recovery from the COVID-19 crisis requires a more comprehensive approach, particularly to assist communities affected by lower levels of remittances and other economic disruptions,” they write. “Reintegration assistance that focuses not only on the outcomes of individuals returning but also on the economic, social and physical health of their communities and countries — in short, that emphasizes the development potential of returns and returnees — is the kind of assistance this crisis demands.”
The policy brief is the third in the series “Critical Migration Governance Issues in a Changed World,” which results from a partnership between MPI and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Find this and other publications in the series here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/international-program/critical-migration-governance-issues-changed-world.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.