(Im)mobility in the Age of COVID-19
Susan Martin, Jonas Bergmann
January 5, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global human mobility dynamics. This IMR Dispatch examines the historical, bidirectional links between pandemics and mobility and provides an early analysis of how they unfolded during the first nine months of the COVID-19 emergency. Results show, first, that international travel restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus are not a panacea in and of themselves. Second, our analysis demonstrates that the pandemic, government responses, and resulting economic impacts can lead to the involuntary immobility of at-risk populations, such as aspiring asylum-seekers or survival migrants. In a similar fashion, stay-at-home measures have posed dire challenges for those workers who lack options to work from home, as well as for migrants living in precarious, crowded circumstances. Moreover, global economic contraction has increased involuntary immobility by reducing both people’s resources to move and the demand for labor. Third, we show that people’s attempts to protect themselves from the virus can result in shifting patterns of mobility, such as increases in cross-border return migration and urban-to-rural movements. Drawing on international guidance for measures to combat pandemics and relevant frameworks on mobility, we propose approaches to alleviate the burden of travel restrictions on migrants and people aspiring to move, while still addressing the need to contain the pandemic and lessen its repercussions.