The research looks into the changes in demographic, economic, and social environments in secondary towns, peri-urban (upazila), and rural areas brought on by the reverse migrations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The findings of the research titled “Demographic and socio-economic changes induced by the Covid-19 pandemic: Challenges of new circumstances” was unveiled at a virtual policy dialogue on Saturday.

A panel of distinguished experts, academics, policymakers, and development professionals shared their valuable insights at the dialogue.

They also discussed the policy priority areas identified by the study findings and way forward.

Shamsul Alam, member (senior secretary), General Economics Division, Planning Commission, attended the dialogue as the chief guest.

The returnee migrant families will put pressure on the existing limited resources, especially in education and health sectors

Representatives from the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM), Dhaka University, the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, UN Women Bangladesh Office, UNDP Bangladesh, and BRAC joined as discussants.

The survey was conducted among 6,370 households during 10-25 December 2020 as part of the study that applied both quantitative and qualitative techniques.

The survey considered April-November 2020 as a reference period.

The study focuses attention specifically to the impact of the Covid-19 on internal and international migration, including migrants who were forced to return to their places of origin due to various circumstances during the pandemic.

One-fourth (25 per cent) of returnee migrant households are concerned over repaying their outstanding migration loans, which amount to an average of Tk 76,000 (around USD 900), and a maximum of Tk 700,000 (around USD 8,300), the study found.

Around 44 per cent reported that they could not find any income-generating work and some of them are managing expenses by withdrawing from savings or using rent from assets.

The surveyed households reported a 58 per cent decrease in monthly remittances received on average during the pandemic that is in stark contrast with the national reports of higher flow of remittances during this period.

However, a plausible explanation lies in previous researches that suggest almost half of the remittances received by the households under normal circumstances are through unofficial channels (such as hundi houses, travellers carrying money, etc.), which were unavailable during the pandemic.

The returnee migrant families will put pressure on the existing limited resources, especially in education and health sectors.

The study found that 4.57 per cent amongst the returnee population were school-aged children (age 5 to 16 years).

If these children cannot return to their previous schools after those reopen, the educational institutions in local host communities will be under pressure.

Besides, 13.35 per cent of returnees (both external and internal) are above 40 years of age, and 4.56 per cent are above 50 years of age.

They have a lesser chance of re-migration, which has significant implications for the health services, especially on the services related to non-communicable diseases.

The female returnee migrants, mostly internal migrants, have been subjected to heightened burden during the pandemic.

They identified inability to engage in productive or income-generating work (74 per cent), problems in moving freely in the streets and marketplaces (26.8 per cent), problems in adjusting with local culture and absence of social utilities (20 per cent), and increased burden of household chores and problems in child-rearing and ensuring their education (18 per cent) as major problems faced by them.

In general, the economic disruptions caused by Covid-19 left many people jobless, especially in the low-income and informal economy.

Around 34 per cent of all surveyed households had at least one member who lost jobs or earning capacity and became economically inactive.

Moreover, over three-quarters of sample households (77 per cent) saw a decline in their average monthly income during the pandemic.

The average monthly savings of households decreased by 62 per cent on average, and household debt increased by 31 per cent, as they depleted their savings and borrowing money to manage their daily expenses.

The average monthly expenditure on the other hand fell by only 8.6 per cent.

The study suggests that the expected crude birth rate in 2020 is 20.2 (per 1000 people) in the surveyed households which is higher than the national crude birth rate in 2018 (18.2).

The average family size was found to be 4.7, which is higher than the pre-pandemic national average of 4.06 (HIES 2016).

After the dissemination of the survey findings, Shamsul Alam said, “Forced migration created frustration among people, particularly for women. We’ve to think over how to create economic opportunities for them. We need a recovery plan -- budget is a kind of recovery plan.”

Shoko Ishikawa, Country Representative, UN Women Bangladesh stated, “Even without data, child marriage has been a problem. Migrants are seeing stress in loss of income. Social safety nets need to look into how to support these migrant families e.g. creating more jobs, finding the right kind of skills training.”

Selim Raihan, executive director, SANEM and professor of Economics, Dhaka University said, “When we’re talking about recovery and coping strategies, these studies are very important. It’s now time to involve all stakeholders, including people’s representatives, business, led by the government, and talk about economic- plus social recovery.”

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