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Academic Highlights: Migration in Asia

Guglielmi and colleagues (2020) Exploring the impacts of COVID-19 on Rohingya adolescents in Cox’s Bazar: A mixed-methods study

In this brief but thorough article, Guglielmi and colleagues explore how COVID-19 has exacerbated the intersecting vulnerabilities faced by Rohingya adolescents living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The findings are drawn from a robust body of mixed-methods data, including quantitative survey with 692 Rohingya adolescents aged 10 to 19 years who live in Cox’s Bazar anda comparator group of 1069 surveys with Bangladeshi adolescents living within 60 km of Cox’s Bazar, and 30 in-depth qualitative interviews with older Rohingya adolescents. Gender-specific data was also collected, facilitating comparison between impacts on boys and girls. Through this rich body of data, the authors discuss both the direct impacts of COVID-19 on Rohingya adolescents and the indirect impacts of the pandemic on health, wellbeing and capabilities. Directly, COVID-19 impacted both mobility and access to information for Rohingya adolescents. Many adolescents complied with COVID-19 containment policies and recognised their necessity, despite experiencing negative indirect impacts. These containment policies also affected access to information with refugee camps by restricting the flow of information into the camps, limiting the ability of inhabitants to watch the news on televisions in public places and exacerbating the effect of internet shutdowns and suppression in the camps. Married adolescent girls were most impacted by reduced information flows and had the least knowledge about the pandemic. COVID-19 was also found to indirectly affect the health and nutrition, education and learning, bodily integrity, involvement in paid work and psychosocial well-being of adolescents. Self-reported physical health deteriorated during the pandemic, and feelings of worry and anxiety increased for Rohingya adolescents. This may be related to the decreased access to sufficient food that 21% of respondents reported, and to reduced household incomes due to inability to leave the camps for work. The percentage of adolescents in education and learning also decreased during the pandemic due to school closures, an implication that may have long term impacts. Importantly, COVID-19 heightened existing inequalities. Rohingya adolescents already faced disadvantage and complex vulnerabilities compared to Bangladeshi adolescents living near Cox’s Bazar. While COVID-19 impacted both groups, the impacts were more severe amongst Rohingya adolescents. Further, girls and adolescents with disabilities were also more acutely affected by the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic.

Ang, CS., Das S/O A Sudha Ann Nancy, A.A.E.L.E. ‘Dirty foreigners’ are to blame for COVID-19: impacts of COVID stress syndrome on quality of life and gratitude among Singaporean adults. Curr Psychol (2022).

This article adds an important dimension to how we understand COVID-19-related stress, and the role of xenophobia in shaping this stress. Based in Singapore, the study locally sought to quantitatively unpack the influence of known stressors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. While migratory status was not a key variable considered in the study, authors paid close attention to xenophobia as an important stressor. Using a Pearson Correlation, they found that Singaporeans had low levels of COVID-19 related stress overall, ‘with the exception of xenophobia’, where xenophobia had a negative impact on quality of life and gratitude, where there was a negative correlation between the two variables, xenophobia and gratitude, with a Pearson coefficient of -0.7. The study took place during a surge in COVID-19 cases located in migrant dormitories, and the authors hypothesised, using their findings and external literature, that the rise in xenophobia around the world stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic likely increased discriminatory treatment for their study participants. At the individual level, migrants may have experienced interpersonal and community level harassment, hate crimes or employment-based discrimination in addition to the socioeconomic vulnerabilities that migrant statuses would have added to their lives. At the structural level, the government reinforced xenophobic reactions to the pandemic by restricting and controlling the political and geographic agency of migrant workers, especially following the outbreaks in migrant dormitories. The article adds much needed language to the discussion around COVID-19 stressors. Originally discussed among several stressors, xenophobia became a key player in how this study illustrated the impacts of this pandemic, and paved another small road towards an evidence base that names and addresses racism, xenophobia and discrimination.

Nayna Schwerdtle, P.; Baernighausen, K.; Karim, S.; Raihan, T.S.; Selim, S.; Baernighausen, T.; Danquah, I. A Risk Exchange: Health and Mobility in the Context of Climate and Environmental Change in Bangladesh—A Qualitative Study. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021,18, 2629. In this primary qualitative study, authors explored how the climate crisis impacts health by exploring the perspectives of climate migrants in Bangladesh. The study was motivated by the threat that the climate crisis poses to our health, and how health in countries that are more vulnerable to the impacts of this crisis, such as Bangladesh, will transform. Authors interviewed 58 climate migrants (people whose primary reason for relocating is exposure to a climate hazard) in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city, asking them about the issues they felt were relevant to their health, migration experience and the climate crisis. The most common themes discussed were the threats and dangers created by a changing environment, and migrants’ lack of access to resources that would help protect themselves from these dangers. These dangers often threatened their financial well-being, their access to food, their physical well-being and the declining condition of their surroundings. These concerns changed across their migration experience as they traded one set of concerns rooted in their place of origin with a new set of concerns in Dhaka. For example, a migrant might have not had an income, in their place of origin. In Dhaka, they had income, but less access to food, and/or less stable housing. Both physical and mental health were at risk: water, sanitation and hygiene did not improve for migrants, many of whom relocated to urban informal settlements (slums). This form of housing is subject to political exclusion and high levels of variability: lack of political recognition and formal infrastructure coupled with high levels of stigma has led residents of these settlements to experience social and material difficulties. Living conditions were crowded, making it difficult to safely and freely access latrines; water quality and availability are variable; and the sense of loss and chaos that came with their move to Dhaka plagued migrants’ mental health. Healthcare was also difficult to access, either because clinics were far away, the health system was too difficult to navigate in the city or there were differences in quality. This study provides important insights into how the climate crisis impacts migration: by acting as a push factor,* this crisis has created circumstances that amplify financial and political hardship. It ultimately demonstrates that people with socioeconomic vulnerabilities will experience new and sustained forms of disenfranchisement. This means that as the crisis continues, we will need to not only consider what climate migrants need, but also the threat that racism and xenophobia pose to migrants who are displaced by the climate crisis. Pursuing any climate-adaptive solutions will require a justice-driven approach, which centres those who are politically, socially and economically disenfranchised by the climate crisis. *Push factors are circumstances and/or events that cause someone to migrate from one place to another.

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