Migrant Indians in COVID Crisis

A migrant labour camp receiving food from a local NGO

India is a country that has massive informal workforce and densely populated urban clusters, which makes our public health infrastructure vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Internal Migrants constitute about one-third of India’s urban population, and this proportion is increasing at a rate from 31.6% in 1983 to 35% in 2007-08 (NSSO, 2007 – 2008). The first lockdown that was enforced by the Government of India to restrict the movement of people and the spread of the virus resulted in a catastrophic outcome for the millions of migrant workers in the country. (Suresh, James, et. al., 2020) It has also created a great impact on the social, economic and structural aspects of the lives of migrant labourers (Foley and Piper, 2020). They were thrust into homelessness, unemployment and were made extremely vulnerable to the virus. Migrant workers, especially during the pandemic, were more vulnerable to be directly or indirectly affected by the virus. According to Liem, Weng, et al. (2020), Migrant workers’ ability to avoid viral contamination; receive suitable health care; and survive the social, economic, and psychological impacts of the pandemic might be affected by a large number of factors such as their living conditions, workplace, lack of consideration of their cultural and linguistic backgrounds in service provisions, xenophobia, their inadequate knowledge regarding local networks , and their acceptance among the host communities, which in turn are intrinsically linked to their status as a migrant. It is extremely difficult to maintain social distancing and hygiene practices when the migrants are living in camps or non-camps settings, slums or as homeless (Sanderson, 2020; Sobecki, 2020). Evidences suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted migrants and ethnic minority groups in the host region along with the hardship of food insecurity and financial vulnerability. They also experienced the double burden of being economically poor and being away from their homes, which further aggravate their problems (Suresh, James, et. al., 2020). Inspite of mass exodus of migrant labourers from the host states there has been overpopulation in urban clusters where residual migrant populations still live in unsanitary conditions resulting in community spread of the virus. India’s health Infrastructure was exposed to be extremely insufficient to cater to the sufferings of the victims of COVID-19. The oxygen shortages, unavailability of hospital beds and vaccine poverty were the symptoms of an underlying issue that plagues our healthcare system. These issues worsened due to the extreme social and economic inequality that widened during the lockdown and strained the access to health services. It is harder to implement public health interventions in regions of poor hygiene and sanitation due to overcrowding situations. Migrant labourers lacking the recognition of their rights at the host region were unaccounted in the planning of emergency health infrastructure for the COVID pandemic. There were various challenges faced by the migrant population during the pandemic such as the access to food and basic amenities, hygiene and sanitation, preventive kits and screening possibly infected persons. Inaccessibility to accommodation and sanitation facility along with the mental health concerns had further increased the vulnerability of migrant labourers (Rajan, Sivakumar, et. al., 2020). The exacerbated impact of pandemic on migrant labourers were mere reflections of the systemic neglect and lack of accountability of the state towards employment and living conditions of these workers who struggle to make a living in the informal labour sector of this country (Mohan & Mishra, 2020). The pandemic is also expected to have an impact on the informal sector in the long term and its workers are the most vulnerable group to this global problem (International Labor Organisation, 2020). Migrant women were specifically more affected by the pandemic because they are in most cases stereotyped to be less productive and hence shunned to the lower positions of the society (Chakraborty, 2020). A study shows that 92% of women migrant workers had lost their jobs during the lockdown and it has had devastating impact on the families in which they are the bread winners, especially with the burden of healthcare costs (Jan Sahas, 2020).  Life in ghettos and slums have left the life of migrant women and their families in a precarious situation due to their inability to maintain social distancing (Azeez, Negi, et. al., 2021).


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Rajani Suresh, Justine James & Balraju R. S.j (2020) Migrant Workers at Crossroads–The Covid-19 Pandemic and the Migrant Experience in India, Social Work in Public Health, 35:7, 633-643, DOI: 10.1080/19371918.2020.1808552

NSSO. (2007–2008). National Sample Survey Office, Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation, Government of India.

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Sanderson, D. (2020, April 7). Coronavirus: Having fled crisis before, displaced people living in Africa’s cities are especially at risk. Andre & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.

Sobecki, N. (2020, April 10). In Nairobi, quarantine is a luxury few can afford. National Geographic.

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