The Asia-Pacific region was the first in the world affected by COVID-19, which was identified in China in December 2019. As of November 2020, more than 12.2 million confirmed cases and more than 224,000 deaths had been reported in 28 countries, territories and/or areas in the region, with varied levels and trajectories of infection rates; however, with limited testing capacities in multiple contexts, the true number of cases is likely much higher.
Governments across the region instituted a suite of restrictions and policies to curb the spread of the virus, including partial or total closure of Points of Entry (PoE), travel bans, widespread business and school closures, intranational movement restrictions, curfews and lockdowns. While many measures were successful at reducing the spread of the virus, they also had significant economic impacts, including a weakened tourism industry, significant decreases in remittances, interruptions to migrant labour that upholds key industries, and overall reductions in labour force participation.
Mobility is a critical and defining feature of the pandemic and will continue to be inextricably linked with national and international COVID-19 response, mitigation and recovery efforts. Migrants are facing multiple simultaneous crises - the COVID-19 health risks and a lack of access to health services in many destination countries; job loss and financial precarity due to the socioeconomic crisis resulting from global economic downturn; and a protection crisis with border closures, entry restrictions, travel bans and limitations, and exclusionary actions putting vulnerable populations at even greater risk of exploitation and harm. Job loss and border closures led to sudden mass migration movements, further increasing migrants’ vulnerability, including in terms of health safety, income and gender-based violence.
Nearly 7 million migrants returned to their countries of origin in Asia and the Pacific. Travel restrictions and their impacts on mobility have complicated this process, and more than 2 million migrants face extended uncertain situations in transit and destination countries, including those that are stranded as they wait for governments and international organizations to support their return travel. Governments in the region have mobilized to coordinate chartered flights and establish quarantine centres to facilitate migrants’ return.
Specific regional factors exacerbate migrant vulnerability in the context of COVID-19, including high rates of urbanization and densely populated cities, leading to cramped and crowded living and working conditions for migrants. Due to natural disasters and conflicts, large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in displacement sites or evacuation centres, presenting extremely high-risk environments for COVID-19 transmission.