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Epidemics, labour and mobility

The spread of the coronavirus pandemic shows in stark terms the role of migration and (im)mobility in a crisis. Since the rise of COVID-19, borders have been closed, travel routes shut down, whole countries placed in quarantine, and families divided. Given the world’s reliance on mobility, of both people and goods, the effects of this sudden halt have been felt in practically every aspect of our social and economic lives. Mobility within and between cities is restricted as much of everyday activities have frozen. We are reminded of just how interconnected our world is. 

As with many crises, those on the move feel the effects most acutely, particularly people with mobile livelihoods. Travel bans are shaking immigration systems, with widespread border closures reducing movement at an unprecedented rate. Outside the spotlight, the pandemic places pressure on the plight and resilience of those whose livelihoods rely on mobility – such as domestic workers, taxi drivers, street vendors, health sector professionals, hospitality workers, delivery drivers, and gig economy workers. With borders closing, people with mobile livelihoods are prevented from migrating for work, or from returning home to be with family. As well, migrant workers may find themselves out of work – due to illness, business closure or failure in the usual networks or infrastructures they rely on – with limited access to welfare or healthcare in a time of need, and reduced capacity to send remittances to family. In turn, many economies are facing gaps in their workforces where migrants or seasonal workers are relied on for everything from fruit picking to domestic care. This edition explores, in essence, how the livelihoods of mobile workers have been impacted by this pandemic.

In this issue, we follow migrants and other people on the move as they navigate new situations of vulnerability and economic insecurity in host societies, return to their places of origin, or find themselves caught between borders. We examine recent policies and regulations affecting migrants and mobile workers, and question what ‘being essential’ for the economy means during a pandemic. Finally, we turn to history and literature to look for clues about what the future of mobility may look like.

We would like to thank Professor Biao Xiang for encouraging us to undertake this issue and for his guidance and support throughout the editorial process. We are honoured to join the initiative of the Coronavirus and Mobility Forum at the University of Oxford's Centre of Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS). Some of the articles in this issue will be republished at the Forum, contributing to a wider discussion across disciplines about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on mobilities.

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Editorial mosaic


What a life in the host country: Narratives of immigrants in Morocco amid the pandemic

(Fiona) Debarati Choudhury - Photo by to

Migrant labourers in the time of coronavirus lockdown: A focus on the non-agricultural sector in India


The worst is yet to come: The impact on subsistence of migrant labourers during and post lockdown

(Fiona) Anurag - S Photo by Anurah Devko

COVID-19: Looming risks amongst Nepali migrant workers

Richard Anyah - Micra by Tope Ajayi

End-time theories: The intersection of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and the mobility of labourers in Ibadan

Oluwasegun Ajetunmobi - Traditional_Medi

Transnational herbal medicine practitioners along the Nigeria-Niger corridor in the time of a pandemic


Global crises and migrant futures (An historical view)

(Max) Catherine Bryan Violet in Personal

On labour migration and reproduction in the time of COVID-19


An inevitable passageway to Europe under COVID-19: A healthcare and economic crisis without precedence

(Hannah) Carola Lingaas S.jpg

Men as victims of forced labour: Labour migration in times of pandemics

(Margaret) Anna Safuta _ Kristin Noack.j

A pandemic, and then what? The effects of the Corona pandemic on migrant care workers in Germany


Taking advantage of the state of need? First steps for regularisation in Italy


Portugal, a beacon of migrant rights? It’s complicated

Sudan revolution

Ripples of a Massacre: Militiamen, European border externalization and Revolution in Sudan


COVID-19 may not have reached Syrian communities in the Middle East, but its domino effects have


Migration and mobility during COVID-19: A Pakistan perspective

(Fiona) Manish Maskara - Photo by Balour

Lockdown in India: Exodus as an expression of grievance

(Hannah) Heller Arokkiaraj.jpg

The impact of return migration to Kerala from the Gulf amidst the pandemic

(Max) Kelvin Lam Cover PhotoS.jpeg

‘Learning’ to be self-reliant: What does COVID-19 pandemic mean to the refugee community in Hong Kong?

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‘Swimming against the tide’: The fragility and resilience of residual refugees to COVID-19 disruption in Oru

_Sarah Olympia photo 1 (Adrian Paci 2007

From evidence to action: Missed opportunities for improving cross-border migration and health in Southern Africa


Guatemala: From the border crisis to the immobility of the town of Patzún. The Mayan people at risk


Temporary workers in Canada: Crossing borders in pandemic times


Armenian ‘Putinka’ and beyond: Are there any alternatives for returned labour migrants in their homeland?

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Migrant workers in the tourism industry: How has COVID-19 affected them, and what does the future hold?

(Max) Chrysi K antoine-merour-kKsZ9Z1kF1

Being ‘on hold’: within the same territory, on different ground

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‘Have I really survived?’: On home, refuge, and quarantine in Rome


What if this were the end of mobility? A (not so) dystopian reading of current affairs

(Hannah) Shaddin Almasri (CREDIT_ Ezzeld

Daily-wage migrant workers and government COVID-19 responses in Jordan


All for one and one for all

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The Indian migration crisis: The hidden majority

(Hannah) Priya Deshingkar & Lamea MomenS

Hyper-precarious lives: Bangladeshi migrants on Azad visas in Qatar during the COVID-19 pandemic


Forgotten workers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics: The plight of Japan’s foreign technical interns during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Don’t come close: The plight of street children during COVID-19’s ‘forced immobility’


COVID-19 in Latin America: A pandemic causing an economic and healthcare catastrophe


Pandemic statelessness in Mesoamerica


COVID-19 and Canada’s mobile labour force

(Hannah) Moritz, Manuela, Mira photo.jpg

Platform (im)mobilities: Migration and the gig economy in times of COVID-19

(Margaret) Anja Benedikt article photo.j

Essential migrants, expendable migrants: Recognising seasonal workers as ‘key’ will not prevent their exploitation

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When the invisibili become essenziali: Migrant workers’ rights in Italy during the pandemic crisis

(Margaret) Pamela K_Nick O.C_DSC_2900 (1

Lost humanity in human resources: Italy’s economic revival through migrant labour exploitation during COVID-19


In honour of Sarah: A call to recognise the complexity of queerness in exile

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