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New research project set to explore the role of civil society in supporting migrant populations during the Covid-19 pandemic

Academics from Queen Mary University of London have been awarded funding from the University’s Strategic Research Priorities Fund to undertake a cross-regional study exploring the role of civil society organisations supporting vulnerable migrant populations in Brazil and India in the context of Covid-19.

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Indian migrant workers during the Covid-19 pandemic
Indian migrant workers during the Covid-19 pandemic

Funded through Queen Mary’s Global Policy Institute, the work will be led by Professor Parvati Nair from Queen Mary’s School of Languages, Linguistics and Film and Dr Marcia Vera Espinoza from Queen Mary’s School of Geography. They will be working alongside colleagues in Brazil; Dr Gisela Zapata (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais), and India; Dr Smita Tiwary, Dr Rakesh Ranjan and Dr Sadananda Sahoo (Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism).

The aim of the research is to analyse the roles of civil society organisations and migrant-led groups in offering support on the ground for migrants, both internal and international, in Brazil and India, which are both greatly affected by the pandemic.

Risks for migrant populations

The researchers aim to identify what the context, needs and risks on the ground are for migrant populations. They will also explore good practices from the third sector, primarily civil society organisations and migrant-led groups that are currently offering vital support and safeguarding them. The team seeks to identify policies and practices that may serve policymakers in the longer term to foster social cohesion, safety and solidarity.

Brazil and India share the position of being major emergent regional powers that present certain common political, economic and social factors. Both hold significant regional presence that draws in migrants from neighbouring countries, as well as from rural and other areas. Both have economic and industrial might that offers incentive for migration and yet both countries also continue to endure major socio-economic challenges with considerable inequalities.

Insufficient support

The need for this study stems from the fact that the policies of state and regional governments have not been able to sufficiently address the needs of already vulnerable groups. Both in Brazil and in India, the sheer geographical size of these countries, together with complex socio-economic factors, has meant that vulnerable, low income and undocumented migrant groups have found themselves particularly at risk due to the pandemic. The disruption to work, income and health has had a domino effect across society, affecting those on the margins most.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has placed great strain on both Brazil and India, countries that have experienced very high levels of outbreak with concomitant pressures on already challenged health systems. The pandemic has also rendered much migrant labour destitute, leaving them unemployed and with limited access to financial support.

An active and engaged third sector

Professor Parvati Nair, Professor of Hispanic, Cultural and Migration Studies, who is co-investigating the study said: “I am delighted to have the chance to carry out this comparative research project together with my co-investigators and our team here at Queen Mary, in India and in Brazil. Across the world, Covid-19 has made social inequalities even starker than before.

“While the two countries are literally continents apart, they share social landscapes of significant, but uneven, development and striking social inequalities, as well as significant migrant presence. Both countries also benefit from having a very engaged and active third sector. Since the start of the pandemic, migrants have been amongst the most vulnerable. Civil society organisations, faith groups and migrant-led organisations all play key roles in supporting them. We hope that our analysis of their roles in offering support on the ground for migrants, so as to identify good practices, will serve policymakers in the longer term to foster social cohesion, safety and solidarity.”

Dr Marcia Vera Espinoza, Lecturer in Human Geography who is also co-investigator on the research project said: “We are extremely excited to start working with our partners in Brazil and India on this research that promises to increase our understanding of the role of civil society organisations in supporting migrant populations before and during the pandemic.

“It has been well established that the Covid-19 sanitary crisis has exacerbated migrant vulnerabilities, particularly in countries such as Brazil and India, where the pandemic came to widen already existing structural inequalities. Both countries have a strong civil society sector, including NGOs and migrant-led organisations, which have been at the forefront of migrant protection: from covering essential needs to developing information campaigns, while also advocating for migrants' access to mitigation measures.

“By discussing the work and experience of these organisations on the ground, the study aims to shed light on the challenges and good practices that have emerged during this period; lessons that will be relevant to migrant communities, the civil society sector, and policymakers alike, both during and after the pandemic.”

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