Researchers from the IPC-IG discuss the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 on migrants, refugees and displaced people in the MENA region

Refugee girls in MENA region



On 10 November 2021, Lucas Sato and Maya Hammad, researchers from the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) participated in a webinar discussing “Social Protection and COVID-19: Inclusive Responses for International Migrants and Forcibly Displaced Persons in the MENA region”. The webinar was part of a series titled “COVID-19 socio-economic impact on migrant and displaced populations - Perspectives from the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA)”, which was organised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Economic Research Forum (ERF), taking place from 8 to 11 November 2021. 

Their presentations were based on a forthcoming article by Sato, Hammad, and Charlotte Bilo, in a partnership with the International Labour Organization in the Arab States (ILO ROAS) by invitation of IOM. The article aims at mapping social protection responses in the MENA region directed at migrant and displaced populations during the pandemic. It concludes that few government responses explicitly covered and addressed the needs of non-nationals, especially of those who had no access to social protection systems before COVID-19, reproducing pre-existing exclusion from national schemes. 

The MENA region currently hosts over 13 million internally displaced people, 10 million refugees and 23 million migrant workers, and a significant part of them work on the sectors most affected by the pandemic, such as domestic work, healthcare, manufacturing, and construction. These populations are highly exposed to unemployment and occupy precarious, low-paid, and informal jobs, reducing their ability to deal with the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.    

According to Hammad, “the pandemic has had multiple socio-economic effects on the MENA region in terms of GDP contraction, loss of employment, increase in poverty and definitely aggravated the vulnerabilities of migrant workers and forcibly displaced populations”.  

Additionally, Sato pointed out that “162 social protection responses were found in 20 MENA countries up to March 2021, but only 15 per cent of the government measures mapped guaranteed access to non-nationals”. 

The researchers also concluded that emergency income support is a good practice to protect non-nationals given that many migrant workers and refugees were not registered in contributory insurance schemes. 

The webinar series aimed not only to discuss how this scenario disproportionately affects migrants, refugees and displaced-people—who might suffer from xenophobic attacks and are unable to access health services or national social protection—but also to showcase what UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, and academics are doing to mitigate its negative consequences across the MENA region. 


Watch the webinar’s full recording


Photo: Canva