WHAT: In Asian megalopolises – in India in particular – lockdowns have caused mass movements of poor migrant workers from the cities in which they work to their home villages in the countryside. An estimated 120 million migrant workers form the backbone of the Indian economy. These workers are employed in informal sectors, including in construction, food preparation and service, and delivery, and often live in precarious and congested housing conditions. When a strict lockdown was announced in March 2020, and again one year later, millions of migrant workers found themselves unemployed and without access to shelter, food, or water. Because public transport had also been shut down, they were forced to walk to their home villages which, in some cases, were thousands of miles away. This contrasts greatly with trends of the last decades where urban migrants have built and participated in the development of Asia’s biggest cities: between 2000 and 2010, 200 million people moved into Asia’s cities, and before the current pandemic 25-30 people migrated to Indian cities every minute.
SO WHAT: Considering the importance of these urban migrants for economic development, and the attraction of cities when it comes to employment, it seems unlikely that the urban exodus will endure beyond the pandemic. It does, however, demonstrate the need to better integrate human rights, sustainability, and quality of life objectives into urban planning, especially in poor neighbourhoods where high proportions of migrants congregate. In European cities, immigrant populations have been particularly vulnerable, and the quality of housing and living environment, access to healthcare, difficulties in working from home, and reliance on public transportation have been issues that can be acted upon.