Impeded Migration as Adaptation: COVID-19 and Its Implications for Translocal Strategies of Environmental Risk Management




COVID-19, Environmental Risk Management, Immobility, Migration, Translocal Livelihoods


In the debates over environmental impacts on migration, migration as adaptation has been acknowledged as a potential risk management strategy based on risk spreading and mutual insurance of people living spatially apart: migrants and family members that are left behind stay connected through a combination of financial and social remittances, joint decision-making and mutual commitment. Conceptualizing migration as adaptation through the lens of translocal livelihood systems enables us to identify the differentiated vulnerabilities of households and communities. COVID-19 and the restrictions on public life and mobility imposed by governments worldwide constituted a complex set of challenges for translocal systems and strategies, especially in the Global South. Focusing on examples, we highlight two points: first, the COVID-19 crisis shows the limits of migration and translocal livelihoods for coping with, and adapting to, climate and environmental risks. Second, as these restrictions hit on a systemic level and affect places of destination as well as origin, the crisis reveals specific vulnerabilities of the translocal livelihood systems themselves. Based on the translocal livelihoods approach, we formulate insights and recommendations for policies that move beyond the narrow, short-term focus on the support of migrant populations alone and address the longer-term root causes of the vulnerabilities in translocal livelihoods systems.

Author Biographies

Gunnar Stange, University of Vienna & Private University College of Education Burgenland

Gunnar Stange is a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Geography and Regional Research at the University of Vienna and at the Private University College of Education Burgenland, Austria. In his work, he focuses on migration, development, and conflict transformation themes, mainly in Southeast Asia. Outside of academia, he is also a psychosocial counselor working with refugees.

Raffaella Pagogna, University of Vienna

Raffaella Pagogna is a PhD student and lecturer at the Population Geography and Demography Working Group in the Department of Geography and Regional Research at the University of Vienna, Austria. Her research primarily centers around migration infrastructures, governance, and decision-making processes. With a keen interest in comprehending the spatial and social implications of migration, she has conducted fieldwork in Ethiopia and Thailand.

Harald Sterly, University of Vienna

Harald Sterly is a research associate at the Population Geography and Demography Working Group in the Department of Geography and Regional Research, University of Vienna, Austria. He focuses on the spatial and social aspects of migration, urbanization, and technological change, with a specific interest on how the use of information and communication technology (ICT) changes vulnerable groups’ scope for agency and their vulnerability and resilience.

Patrick Sakdapolrak, University of Vienna

Patrick Sakdapolrak is professor of Population Geography and Demography at the Department of Geography and Regional Research, University of Vienna, Austria. His research field is at the interface of population dynamics, environmental change, and development processes, with a focus on the topics of migration and displacement as well as health and disease, mainly in South- and Southeast Asia and East Africa.

Marion Borderon, University of Vienna

Marion Borderon is assistant professor of geography in the Population Geography and Demography Working Group at the Department of Geography and Regional Research, University of Vienna, Austria. Her research interests concern population and development studies. Much of her work focuses on contributing to the development of concepts and methods for the spatial assessment of vulnerability and risk in the context of environmental change in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Benjamin Schraven, German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS)

Benjamin Schraven is an associate research fellow at the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS). His work focuses mainly on the relationship between environmental change and human mobility and potential policies addressing “climate migration”. Furthermore, he also works on migration governance (with a particular focus on West Africa) and the discourse on migration and development.

Diogo Andreola Serraglio, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

Diogo Andreola Serraglio is a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). His research concentrates mainly on the legal aspects of human mobility in the context of climate change, with a particular focus on Latin America and the Caribbean.


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