Across South Asia, migrant workers have been among those most affected by the pandemic. In India the initial lockdown was imposed with only hours’ notice, leading to a mass exodus of migrant workers from major cities – an exodus that in turn proved to be a major conduit of infection. At the same time, South Asian migrant workers abroad found themselves subject to deportation, or else stranded and unable to return home.
This has happened before. During the plague epidemic of the 1890s – far more lethal than Covid-19 – and again during the “Asian influenza” of 1957-58, migrant workers were the subject of intensive scrutiny, and their movements posed challenges to health policy. This virtual panel discussion will bridge insights from research into past pandemics in South Asia, and current research on the impact of Covid-19 on migrant workers. How can the interests of migrant workers be better protected? In times of crisis, what sorts of interventions have been most, and least, effective in balancing the interests of workers, their families, employers, and the interests of public health?
Sunil Amrith, Renu and Anand Dhawan Professor of History at Yale University