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The impact of COVID-19 on a cohort of internal migrants and non-migrant residents of South Africa’s rural northeast

Carren Ginsburg, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Collinson Mark, University of the Witwatersrand
Francesc Gomez-Olive, Harvard University
Sadson Harawa, University of the Witwatersrand
Chantel Pheiffer, Brown University
Michael J. White, Brown University

South Africa has a large temporary migrant population with people commonly moving to metropolitan areas to access employment, while maintaining links with rural origin areas. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on mobility, livelihoods and health seeking, and the effects on internal, temporary migrants are not well understood. Using data from a 5-year cohort study, this paper examines the patterns of internal migration, employment and healthcare utilisation pre-COVID-19 and assesses the impacts of the virus on a cohort of 2969 internal migrants and permanent residents from South Africa’s rural northeast. Results suggest that migrants were more protected against negative economic impacts of the pandemic. Nevertheless, increased levels of return migration and lower levels of new migrations suggest vulnerability among existing and prospective migrants. Rural-based non-migrant residents, a larger proportion of whom are female, appear to have suffered greater economic disadvantages as a result of the pandemic, while lower levels of health service utilisation were reported during COVID-19, particularly among migrants. These findings contribute evidence needed for public health policy on the COVID-19 response by shedding light on the impact of the pandemic on mobile populations, and the risks for rural stable populations in South Africa who have seen socioeconomic conditions decline.

Keywords: Internal migration, COVID-19, Migrant populations, Longitudinal studies

See paper.

  Presented in Session 180. Migration in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic