Tips for reporting on migration during the pandemic

by Lucía Ballon-Becerra
Apr 6, 2021 in COVID-19 Reporting

In partnership with our parent organization, the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), IJNet is connecting journalists with health experts and newsroom leaders through a webinar series on COVID-19. The series is part of the ICFJ Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum.

COVID-19 has resulted in devastating economic and health consequences for many people around the world — and especially the most vulnerable. 

Migrant populations, fleeing hardship at home, have confronted heightened risk on their journeys in search of better opportunity. More are unemployed, and many have been left stranded mid-transit. At the same time, many migrants have been on the frontlines of the fight against the virus. 

“Look around you," said Yasmina Guerda, a public health communications officer at the International Organization for Migration (IOM). “Migrants are everywhere [and] they’re getting us out of this one. Everywhere you look, they’re contributing to the solutions [to the COVID-19 crisis].”

How should journalists approach their reporting on migration during the pandemic? What issues around migration should reporters shed light on? 

ICFJ Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum Community Manager Paul Adepoju sat down with Guerda and Saskia Kok, the head of migrant protection and assistance for IOM in Nigeria, to discuss the organization’s efforts, share tips on migration reporting, and highlight useful resources for covering the issue.



Here are some key takeaways from the webinar. 

On IOM and how it works

  • IOM is an intergovernmental organization, associated with the UN, that works in country offices around the globe to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants, and to advise governments on migration management.
  • IOM’s in-country programs provide sustainable reintegration and rehabilitation support for returning migrants. They assist vulnerable migrants, including failed asylum seekers, trafficking victims, and unaccompanied or separated children.

On IOM’s Nigeria Program

  • IOM collaborates closely with the government of Nigeria to improve migration management structures and monitor important metrics in the country, for instance around displacement. They work to improve the strength of their migration-related data, and how they communicate about migration issues. They incorporate the information they collect in regularly published reports.
  • In the past three years, IOM has helped return more than 21,000 migrants to Nigeria from a variety of countries such as Niger, Mali, Germany, and Morocco, and especially — 83% — from Libya. These have been “voluntary returns,” said Kok.
  • Even prior to COVID-19, at least 70% of returnees were exposed to vulnerabilities, such as  violence, exploitation and abuse during their travels. Upon returning, the Nigerian migrants had specific medical, psychosocial and socioeconomic needs. IOM’s community reintegration support aims to alleviate these difficulties for returnees. 

[Read more: COVID-19 exposes migration reporting shortfalls in Tunisia]

On migrant populations and the impact of COVID-19

  • COVID-19 ravaged economies around the world, pushing many people to lower socioeconomic statuses. The lack of economic and employment opportunity is a major migratory force: although migration decreased in early 2020, experts expect migration flows to rise dramatically in the near future as travel restrictions are lifted.  
  • Travel restrictions and heightened health and safety regulations disrupted economies and migration patterns. This resulted in an increase of stranded migrants, and intensified the economic strains they face, including loss of income. 
  • Migrants often lack access to healthcare services, especially during transit. COVID-19 exacerbated the risks they typically face during their journeys, too: many migrants found themselves in conditions that left them worryingly exposed to the deadly virus.
  • IOM Nigeria recently conducted a survey analysis, which revealed that 96% of Nigerian migrants were financially worse off than before the pandemic, said Kok. Additionally, 91% of Nigerian migrants indicated their psychosocial state had deteriorated due to COVID-19 and its consequences. 

On collecting health-related migration data

  • It’s difficult to track health metrics, like infection and death rates, specific to migrant populations, as healthcare facilities do not collect and segregate that information.
  • Migrants are less likely to get tested and seek medical assistance out of fear of stigmas, deportation, or due to lacking proper documentation. This also impacts the accuracy of health-related data around migrants. 
  • It’s important to note that “migrant” is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of migration circumstances. Experiences vary by country and travel conditions; as a result, IOM cannot provide global data on COVID-19’s impact on migration. 

[Read more: Fact-checkers team up with social media influencers to combat misinformation in Nigeria]

On story ideas to pursue

  • Migrants have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, providing services across essential sectors such as healthcare, food production and transportation. Your reporting should also aim to highlight these stories.
  • Migrant groups can be at higher risk during transit. However, many migrants complete thorough health screenings before embarking on their journeys that helps reduce this risk. Search for facts that debunk stigmatizing claims linking migrants and disease.
  • Reporting on how vaccination campaigns are unfolding can hold governments accountable. While governments can plan on making vaccinations accessible to all groups, it's important to track what is happening in practice. This includes shedding light on whether migrants are, in fact, being vaccinated, or if they have appropriate access to information in order to get in line.

Resources mentioned during the webinar

Lucía Ballon-Becerra is a Program Assistant at ICFJ.

Main image CC-licensed by Unsplash via Lucas George Wendt.