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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 9, New Delhi, February 13, 2021

Empowering the Migrants: Requisites and Rationalities | Nupur Pattanaik

Friday 12 February 2021


by Nupur Pattanaik

The paper analyses the plight of migrants and talks about the atrocities encountered by the migrant community during the pandemic. The Covid-19 has brought to the spotlight the trials and tribulations faced by women, children, old aged people in the pandemic and how they have been succumbing to exploitation and marginalisation, the need for efficient paradigms and perspectives to make migration safer and needed for the development of the nation. It reflects a need for rational and emergent mechanisms to pave way for better capability and empowerment schemes to elevate the migrant communities by the inclusion of women, children-base entitlements and make migration feasible and safe in the Post-Covid Times for their upliftment and advancement, making migration governance the new normal implications and the order in the new Covid-free world.

Locking and Unlocking in India due to the universal pandemic has highlighted the major paradigms of the migrant plight, the economic halt and situated the conditions of the migrant workers. Invisible, unrecognised vulnerabilities pre-locking and post-unlocking of the nation confronted by the migrant masses has some-way or the other has overblown them. Migrant workers are the spine of India’s informal sector, their movement to states jobs indicates economic integration, and also inter-regional and rural-urban disparities. While empowering themselves, they also enrich their home and host regions. The national lockdown due to the corona-virus contagion has threatened and unravelled the phenomena of migrant crisis; Their mass exodus from the places has created a humanitarian and health, security confrontations, and a logistical nightmare. A Report by World Economic Forum exposes the existing problems, and a need for urban reforms as the pandemic has affected the migrants and post-pandemic there would be imbalances, inequalities, oppressions, disparities towards the poor-low income groups especially the migrants. Remittances are much lower than the Pre-Covid days which have affected their livelihood. Economic precarity, lack of adequate shelter, infections and inadequacy of protective gear, lack of basic services has been a way of life for the migrants. The challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic in India particularly on the migrants internal international diasporic communities and refugees irrespective of their status and has drastically contrived their human rights.

Every year The International Day of Migrants celebrated on 18th December. The year 2020 was a year of massive pretentious trouble for them and the refugees and migrants were remembered who have lost their lives, the major theme was to reimagine human mobility. Migration is a process and not a problem, it is for better livelihood and should not be seen as a suffering trend, but due to a lack of effective well-timed safety measures, they have encountered adversities and misfortunes. Ellsworth Huntington, an eminent geographer who opined that “History in its most comprehensive and inclusive aspect is a record of human being’s migrations from one environment to another”. Globally the enormity of migrant crisis has been exposed by the pandemic like never before. The struggle and strain confronted by migrants are of inconceivable forms. The media visuals of millions of migrant workers out on the road, when the sudden lockdown was first announced in India in the last week of March is still afresh among the masses.

According to a report by The Global Migration data portal reveals that the number of global migrants or people living in a country of destination other than their country of origin in 2019 had reached 272 million, Women migrants account for 48 per cent of the total number, 38 million are the child population, Three out of four international migrants are depicted of the working-age, that is between 20 and 64, It has been estimated that 31 per cent of the international migrants worldwide are in Asia, 30 per cent in Europe, 26 per cent in the Americas, 10 per cent in Africa and three per cent in Oceanian countries.

Lives and Livelihood

Migration has been shaping our world in every turn, in an era of deepening globalization, increased digitalization and rapid urbanization, migration touches all States and people more than ever before. Migration is an expression of development, the inclusion of migration in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development presents a glorious platform to estimate the impact of migration on a range of development issues and to understand better how development can impact on migration and migrants. The central theme to migration in the 2030 Agenda is to “Reduce inequality in and among countries.” It has been a mechanism for orderly safe regular and responsible migration and movement of people through the implementation of planned and well-managed policies for migrant communities.

The epoch of Pandemic and the post-pandemic world has brought a threat to their lives and livelihood which has positioned them in a deplorable condition. The pandemic has disproportionately affected them and made them marginalised. They have become the victims of violence, atrocities, trafficking and many forms of social maladies, basically, children of these migrants too suffered, and also they had become the sufferer of gender inequalities. Women migrant workers are often employed in domestic work, and many of them have suddenly lost their jobs because employers perceive them as carriers of the infected virus. Those who are employed in hospitals, and care sectors like health care clinics and old-age care facilities, looking after COVID-19 masses or cleaning hospital rooms, putting their lives to risk on a daily basis. In addition, women migrant workers who are pushed into the margins of society during the catastrophe are likely to experience the enormous intensity of marginality, harassment and violence. With services such as emergency hotline services being less active due to the universal pandemic, they will have lesser ways to get help services and escape it.

The Covid-19 activated mass migration which is a sudden reversal of this cumulative migration of seven decades, since the partition of India when 14.5 million people migrated. The pandemic has worsened their lives and right to live and a threat to their physical and social well-being. Around 30% of immigrants live in relative poverty in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), compared with 20% of the native-born (OECD/European Union, They are also more likely to live in sub-standard accommodations (23% against 19%) and twice as likely in overcrowded dwellings (17% against 8%). Lack of basic conditions has increased the likeliness of infection, especially given that immigrants are more likely to live in extended cohabiting families.

The pandemic extremed the violence against women migrants specifically domestic maids, children, old aged migrants by the domestic violence, child marriage issues due to utmost poverty, trafficking trade of women migrants were some of the dark sides of the pandemic. Child Abuse, Exploitation, foeticide, stigmatisation were some of the noted phenomena witnessed during the times and there is a need to give a rethought to change their situations and circumstances and prepare them to be capable and enlightened so they can be an active contributor for their own livelihoods and development of nation in the coming times.

The pandemic has significantly escalated their plight. The travails and travesties of these workers need to be addressed, though policies and programmes have been there but a needed deeper level analysis to contribute for their mental well-being is required. A migrant worker from Koraput, Odisha voiced on anonymity that due to pandemic and post-pandemic work responsibilities he has been witnessing ostracizations, xenophobia and stigmatisation from the people around the place of work, a domestic women migrant worker from the same place was jobless due to the pandemic and opined that she has been a victim of domestic violence as she was not having an income.

Empowerment and Entitlements

From hardship to hope for the migrants, the need for migration governance, by achieving human rights and gender rights and organising them for their rights and responsibilities is a needed rational requirement, acting with a sense of urgency is a prerequisite to cater their needs and preparing them for a post-covid world order. Empowerment in the migration process can specifically allow the migrant communities to make right and active choices and protect them from pressure and excessive influence by others in their community of origin and after migration and prevent themselves from every aspect of discrimination. However, the conditions that allow these migrants irrespective of caste, class, faith and gender divide to assert their power and achieve them. Women migrants though constitute a majority of international migrants and should be entitled with rights and several benefits are not somehow incorporated in the gender dimension of migration. The multidimensional aspects of gender, migration and empowerment should be dealt from a multi-pronged perspective. The constraints and enablers, the empowerment and disempowerment processes should be taken into consideration to frame out better and effective policies and privileges in the Post-Covid world order.

While human mobility has been an essential feature of our global history, it is as pertinent today as it ever was in the past. It has been estimated by recent calculus released by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) that 232 million international migrants in the world, migration is and always has been one of the most significant and pressing global issues of the times. The economic, social, and civic proportions of integration needed to be addressed comprehensively. Encouraging migration for better development is a needed recipe for the hour as the pandemic has retrenched and reshuffled the desire for migration. The emergent adequacy to entitle the migrant community should be the outlook to promote mobility and migration. The role of civil society, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisation), Media and other positive communities should play a priority role in encouraging safe migration.

Rethinking mobility and migration strategies, migrant inclusivity, a new urban paradigm to prepare for a post-pandemic world through various policy frameworks should be introduced for uplifting the migrant communities, the parameters of empowerment should be relocated to usher in an equal safe haven for the migrants.



(Author: Dr Nupur Pattanaik is associated with the Department of Sociology, Central University of Odisha)

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