As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, a massive global migration began. While attention focused on vacationers trapped in paradise, or the crowds of expats at airports, millions of Asian migrant workers were also on the move, with little more than their personal belongings. In India, this meant walking, sometimes for days, across the country, while millions of Nepalis, Indonesians, and Filipinos were either stuck abroad with little support in countries with major outbreaks like Singapore, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, or forced to pay for expensive, dangerous journeys back home.

“Experiences in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Gulf countries, where many Asian workers reside, have demonstrated that migrant workers are among the [most] vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 pandemic for a variety of reasons,” said Nilim Baruah, regional migration specialist at the International Labour Organization in Asia, citing inadequate housing, lack of social protections, unsafe detention, and lockdowns as key factors.