19 May 2020
Restrictions on human mobility combined with social distancing measures are the main strategies applied by the majority of governments across the world to stall the spreading of the COVID-19 disease. Consequently, these restrictions alone have fundamentally affected economies, education and transportation systems, tourism industries, agriculture and even consumption markets. However, with global mobility close to zero, internal and international migration experienced the most obvious and drastic changes. For many people in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), which only 3 decades ago lived in one state, mobility within the region is a fundamental part of their lives. For some, migration is essential and sometimes the only way to access education, find employment, reunite or visit families spread across the region and beyond. For some, migration is the only pathway to survive.
Migration dependent economies in the majority of EECA countries have also abruptly halted since the outbreak. The impact of restrictions on mobility since the beginning of March until the end of April is twofold. Whilst economies in Russia and Kazakhstan are losing an important part of their workforce consisting of labour migrants, in countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan remittances that make up a high share of their respective GDP are dropping. In turn, returned migrants have increased pressure on the local labour markets that are already suffering from lockdown restrictions. Stranded migrants in the destination countries are subject to discrimination, poverty and other risks related to health, human security, and more.
May and the beginning of summer might see many countries gradually lifting internal movement restrictions. Yet it is clear that the impact on international migration and mobility will last much longer, or might for some be even permanent. This paper looks at some of the most significant consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on migration and mobility within and from the EECA region. Particularly, the paper discusses the evolvement of labour migration, growing patterns of irregular migration, the impact on migrants’ individual situation, the potential rise of xenophobia and discrimination, and, finally, the expanding inequality between the countries in the region.