Climate disasters and COVID-19 increase job losses for migrant workers in selected South Asian countries, requiring migrant communities to be safeguarded against both

Inaugural speech by Ms Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi at the launch of the report "Impact of COVID-19 on nexus between climate change and labour migration in selected South Asian countries: An exploratory study".

Statement | Online Meeting | 25 January 2022
Mr. Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Professor Tasneem Siddiqui, Chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), Bangladesh

Ms. Katy Barwise, Sr. Programme Manager, United Nations Network on Migration

Representatives of various South Asian governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, UN, civil society, academia and think tanks

ILO colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the ILO Decent Work Team, South Asia, and the India Country Office, it gives me immense pleasure to welcome you all to the launch of this ILO report – “Impact of COVID-19 on nexus between climate change and labour migration in selected South Asian countries: An exploratory study”.

I am extremely pleased by this collaboration of multiple stakeholders, led by the ILO, to research this topic so relevant to the current times we live in. It has brought together academicians, UN colleagues and migration-related practitioners to put together this informative report.

As my colleague Michelle Leighton rightly pointed out, climate change is a challenge to achieving the 2030 Agenda, and the looming effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, have further exacerbated the socio-economic challenges migrant workers are facing; -both, in the national and international settings.

Those joining us today will acknowledge that South Asia has a history of climate vulnerability, displacement and people migrating for work. India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka have all witnessed at least one climate-related disaster in recent times. Floods, tropical storms, cyclones, and landslides have become common and displaced over 13 million people in the region. Consequently, the severe loss of livelihoods and disruptions to the world of work has led to people migrating from rural areas to the urban centers in the informal economy. The on-set of the COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated job losses and consequent lockdowns have not only exposed these migrant workers and their families to extreme risks but have also disrupted one of their principal adaptation options, which traditionally is migration.

In addition to the adverse impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the economies in South Asian, loss of employment in destination regions has resulted in a mass reverse-migration of both internal and international migrants. For a region that has witnessed massive job losses and a disintegration of its labour market, this return of both internal and international migrant workers has made policy makers rethink and review their policies on reintegration while also taking into consideration the adverse effects of climate change.

The unplanned return, unsafe routes and means of transportation, and securitization and stigmatization in the places of origin and destination has been experienced by migrants in varying degrees, including by those who moved because of vulnerabilities related to climate change in the first place.

As migrants returned to their hometowns, many of them lacked an income, shelter and found themselves further vulnerable to climate change impacts. Hence, the absence of social protection measures, loss of income and work opportunities have compounded the challenges faced by migrants.

We must of course acknowledge the initiatives undertaken by Governments and other actors in the region to cope with the challenges of managing COVID-19. Large relief and stimulus packages, strengthening food security, enhancing social protection and employment creation are noteworthy actions taken. While this support to returning migrants has provided some relief, it is evident that those who moved due to climate impact in the first place, need further attention.

I would like to conclude by saying that this report encourages us to reinforce our actions as a collective and leverage the strengths of governments, UN agencies, employers’ organizations, trade unions, and civil society to provide further support to migrant communities that are deeply impacted by the ill-effects of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

During this event, I look forward to hearing Prof. Tasneem Siddiqui, Founding Chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), University of Dhaka, to give us more insights into the report.

I thank you for your kind attention and wish you fruitful deliberations.