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The COVID-19 pandemic versus globalization, mobility and international legal obligations


 The COVID-19 pandemic has gravely affected global mobility and migration. There is a need for adjustment in the approach and policies pursued by policymakers on this issue.  

One of the most essential matters of the pre-pandemic world was the unprecedented growth in human mobility on a global scale. In fact, it was because of the globalization that the pandemic began in a province of China could spread out so rapidly around the world. Transport and travel restrictions have been imposed on the countries covered by the anti-pandemic treaty, and today the international transport structure will be compared to the pre-crisis period.  The effects of the pandemic are expected to be felt for a longer term. The countries are developing additional work on the health of their  citizens, and people’s travel choices are being affected. In this particular context, it is not associated with the closure of the borders of many countries contributes to a decrease in the level of human mobilization and the slowdown in globalization.  

The consequences of COVID-19 to the policy of migration 

In the developed countries, the pandemic process is talked about in terms of migration and anti-immigration agendas. For instance, In the US, during the first months of the pandemic, thousands of immigrants seeking asylum at the border were deported in response to the pandemic.   This reveals that the current crisis situation can be used in violation of international legal obligations against undesirable migration.    The developed countries will try to attract migrants for the economies. On the one hand, strengthen similar measures and policies against asylum seekers and illegal migrants, on the other is slowly becoming a reality in the near future.  

Anti-immigrant state of mind in society

The pandemic has preceded to an increase in anti-immigrant calls in many societies. Immigrants and foreigners are accused of spreading the disease in the country in the developing countries, while in developed countries; already existing anti-immigrant groups accuse migrants of being more irresponsible in spreading the disease and overburdening the health care system. The increasing negative attitudes towards immigrants during the economic downturn, an anti-migrant stance can be expected in the future. This may contribute to the intensification of the aforementioned trend of internal focus and the slowdown of the globalization. 

Immigrants who have limited or no access to health care as they are not citizens of the host country is at greater risk of spreading the virus because it impossible to diagnose or treat the disease. Some countries, such as Portugal, have made it possible for all immigrants with official status (immigrants, refugees, and even asylum seekers) to have full access to health care during this time. Many countries do not recognize the rights for immigrants because they do not provide adequate services. 

Back to the roots

The pandemic has affected either different sectors of society or migrants. Immigrants who have limited or no access to health care in their home country because they are not citizens of the host country are at greater risk of spreading the virus because it is impossible to diagnose, isolate, or treat the disease. Some countries, such as Portugal, have made it possible for all immigrants with official status (immigrants, refugees, and even asylum seekers) to have full health care during this time. Most countries do not recognize these rights for immigrants because they do not provide adequate services to their citizens. In this case, immigrants are more likely to return their home countries due to the pandemic and the inability to access health care services, in the less developed countries.3   The examples involve the return of the group of workers from Colombia to Venezuela, from Iran and Pakistan to Afghanistan, and from India to smaller neighboring countries.

In the future, along with the falling in the dynamics of the immigration process due to the sluggish economy, the slowdown in globalization and the formation of more inwardly focused economies.  There may be a tendency for many migrants to return to their home countries.

Refugee and repatriation camps 

The refugees in refugee camps are forefront of groups affected by the unequal impact of the COVID-19. Nowadays, tens of refugees live in poor and not hygienic camps in developing countries. Therefore, the camps pose a great risk to refugees living in the camps in the first place, and then to entire communities, given that panic-stricken refugees can accelerate the spread of the disease.

Similarly, Detention Centers are a serious risk as the applications from illegal migrants or asylum seekers are not accepted. International organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), are calling on the international community to protect migrants detained in these camps and facilities, improve their living conditions and resettle them as soon as possible. This process could lead to further strengthening of international cooperation in the field of asylum and refugees.

Negative economic impacts of the pandemic on Migrant, Underdeveloped Countries: Some developing countries, economies are heavily dependent on external migration and immigrants abroad, are also affected by the pandemic. Those countries such as the Philippines, Somalia, and Mexica have been hit hard by the pandemic as their economies have reduced unemployment and remittances have played a significant role in GDP. The reasons for this are the economic downturn, the fact that migrant workers are the first to be fired because they work in unskilled jobs, and those who are unable to access health care in their home countries tend to return to their home countries. In addition to the economic costs the pandemic will create for each country's economy, the economies of the countries may face economic crises in the future due to these factors.

The tendency for health workers to utilize the services of migrants may increase competition among highly qualified migrants. Some countries have begun to ease immigration policies to ease the burden on the health care system by facilitating the arrival and / or employment of health workers. The United States, Germany, and Spain, which previously made it difficult for health-qualified immigrants to work with different compliance requirements, have so far taken steps in this area, as well as in the United Kingdom. In the coming period, we can expect that the already existing international competition to attract highly qualified migrants to their countries, especially those working in the health sector, will intensify.

High pandemic risks in crisis and conflict zones

Obviously, the risks of the pandemic are increasing in crisis and conflict zones.  Despite the UN’s continued calls for a ceasefire in the conflict zone, groups seeking to take advantage of the government’s focus on the fight against the pandemic are exacerbating the violence. People living in conflict zones are less likely to protect themselves from the pandemic and access to health care is quite poor. This situation certainly increases the number of people who are forced to leave their home to the safer place or emigrate. 

Illegal migration during the pandemic

Illegal migration especially continues in various regions such as Mediterranean region. Majority of the migrants are forced to migrate because of the abnormal living conditions. In addition, these countries are using all means to prevent the admissions of these migrants as well as taking drastic measures and advantage of the crisis that accompanies the pandemic. 

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/14/world/americas/mexico-border-biden.html
  2. https://migrationdataportal.org/themes/return-migration
  3. https://migrationdataportal.org/themes/migration-data-relevant-covid-19-pandemic
  4. https://migrationdataportal.org/themes/migration-data-relevant-covid-19-pandemic


Elnara Garibova
Acquired legal education at Baku State University and the doctoral degree at the Faculty of European Union and International Economic Relations of Ankara University, majoring in EU law. Areas of research: EU law and relations, constitutional law and citizenship, human rights, migration processed, Europeanization, European identity, etc.