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International Law

Reimagining the contours of “Common Heritage of Mankind” vis-à-vis right to Health

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Authors: Manini Syali and Vinayak Jhamb*

In the recent meeting of G20, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for sharing medical research freely and openly between nation states for the development of mankind. This raises interesting questions with respect to re-assessing the existing contours of the Common Heritage Mankind principle (CHM), commonly applied in the context of natural resources. This become important especially in the present context when the entire mankind, as a single unit, is facing an unprecedented challenge in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth unprecedented challenges before the world community and not even a single nation state has remained out of reach of the damage and adverse impacts it can cause. Moreover, it would not be wrong to equate the magnitude of this contagious spread with the two World Wars which the world had the misfortune to witness.

It is also a well-established fact that due to historical as well as socio-economic reasons not all nation states are at an equal footing when it comes to infrastructural development. This in the present context becomes extremely important and places a burden on the developed states to share the health care resources they possess with the other less resourceful countries. It is pertinent to note that an appeal in this regard was also made by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the recent G20 meeting, for utilizing and sharing medical research freely and equally between nation states for the benefit of the entire mankind.

Countries have started working in this direction and the United States has already announced financial assistance of 174 million USD to 64 countries, for effectively fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of this amount, 2.9 million USD is being offered to the Indian government for preparing laboratories, activating case findings and conducting event-based surveillance.

This call made to the World Community to operate as a unified whole for disease eradication is not new and also gets reflected in the goals and purposes for which the World Health Organization was established. Moreover, the nomenclature used for the organization clearly signifies that the focus was on looking at health as a global agenda which goes beyond artificially constructed sovereign borders. Despite existence of a specialized United Nations agency and acknowledgement of right to health as a primary human right by virtue of Article 12, International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, there remains a disparity between the world population when it comes to accessibility of health care facilities.

 Moreover, the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and public health is a good example which can substantiate the above discussed proposition. The Declaration attempted to reconcile the existing conflicts between Trade Law and Right to Health and also responded to the concerns of developing countries about the obstacles they faced when seeking to implement measures to promote access to affordable medicines in the interest of public health in general. This demonstrates that Health Related rights stand in conflict with parallelly operating legal regime, namely, International Trade Law. The focus of the Declaration remained on the following health related aspects of TRIPS: Compulsory Licensing, Parallel Imports and the Transition Period for Least Developed Countries. Despite existence of such an exhaustive legal regime, health care remains far from becoming universally available. The present article, thus, attempts to analyze whether the scope of health related rights need to be expanded beyond the already existing legal frameworks and whether international law doctrine of common heritage of mankind can encompass universal health care and related aspects.

Common Heritage of Mankind and Healthcare

The term “Common Heritage of Mankind” is a comprehensible term which needs to be explored completely. The fundamental premise of this concept entails the principle of equity in the real sense of the term. It states that all the resources available in different geographical set ups have to be adequately allocated amongst the world population with utmost precision and parity. However, the concept has never been followed strictusensu at the international forefront. It is absolutely unimaginable to think that all the nation-states sharing the global resources equitably. But, one of the major lacunas highlighted by the authors is the lack of considering “health resource” as an intrinsic part of Common Heritage of Mankind. The scholars across the globe have turned a blind eye to this issue since time immemorial. They claim that once this first generation human right enters into the domain of “common heritage of mankind”, it would essentially open up a Pandora box as the first generation human rights of “right to life” which has been enshrined in the International Convention on civil and political rights”. The sanctity of the binding nature of the Convention is beyond debate ,thus, formulating right to health as one of the unmoving legal principles at the international forefront is a herculean task.

Concrete and Express Recognition of Right to Health

This does not mean that the international community has been absolutely oblivious of this issue. However, their efforts have only helped in unifying right to health as a directory measure at the international forefront. The lack of concrete steps in this regard still haunts the international legal regime. The authors under this piece are trying to put across a question in front of the world about the need of having a specific regulation reconsidering the right to health as a valuable resource. The domestic legal regimes very well have their set of standard operating procedures vis-à-vis this issue but the vacuum at the international level still persists.There have been times wherein the expanding contours of trade and commerce have sabotaged public health crisis which is akin to a quagmire of innumerable problems which have no definite solutions. Public health is one of those invaluable assets which have to percolate at every level of governance. So, adequate steps need to be taken in this regard and this can only be done with the co-jointed efforts of the international community members and the civil societies operating independent of any governmental control.

Unprecedented Times call for Unprecedented measures

The contemporary crisis which has taken a vice grip of everyone across the globe has opened up our narrow minds. The problem of Corona Virus which has become an intrinsic matter of discussion in every household across the world today is increasing exponentially. This emanated from a small town of China named as Wuhan and spread like a wildfire across the globe is highly uncalled for. The plight of Italy, Spain, USA and Iran cannot be attributed apt words. The entire globe is facing an existential crisis because the governments have always lived in delirium and never abided by the principle of “Prevention is better than cure”. India also is facing the brunt of this virus with more than 1200 positive cases registered by the Indian Council of Medical research in consonance with the Health Ministry of India. So, the problem which perpetuated in China is taking a toll on all of us out there. But, at this juncture, the authors want to pose a question to the world- All those medical equipments and technologies which the countries are intending to import, should they not be readily available without any charges in such times of need? Or will excessive imports by these needful countries not disturb their Balance of Payment fulcrum? These questions might have their roots embedded in the economic realms but have a specific legal tangent attached to them.

But, the authors just intend to highlight the immediate need of having health as a specific resource which can comfortably fall under the domain of “Common Heritage of Mankind”. If the news agencies are to be believed, China has promised to help the other countries in distress, but then a thought pops up about the existence of IPR issues while sharing the requisite vaccine? Or what shall be the opportunity cost which China shall ask for in this process? These questions are popping up time and again in our minds and the authors are absolutely not familiar with any concrete solution other than making public health a resource under the common heritage of mankind.

Conclusion

Though it has been rightly said by Robert Merton that “It is good to ask questions but it is always better to find solutions to those questions”, but such complex set of questions cannot be answered in one go. They need proper analysis of the problem and then only certain concrete measures could be thought of. The idea behind writing this piece was to ignite the spirit of research in establishing the inter-relationship between the commonly found concept of “common heritage of mankind” and right to health as a resource. It would be highly falsified on our parts if we bombard the readers with a special set of suggestions because the cost-benefit analysis of each of those suggestions is varied and comprehensive. Thus, the authors have left the door ajar so that the readers are able to familiarize with the given set of problems which are staring us and then accordingly ponder about the need of expanding the contours of “Common heritage of mankind”.

*Vinayak Jhamb is a Research Scholar at University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi

Manini Syali is a Research Scholar at University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi.

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International Law

A legal analysis of the United Nations response to Covid 19: How the Security Council can still help

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The Covid-19 pandemic, which plagues the world currently has brought to light the inherent deficiencies in the International Legal order and its ability to combat a global catastrophe of this nature. It has caused a complicated situation in which International Law and its subjects; States and International Organisations, in particular, are struggling to uphold the principle of coordination between states, which is one of the founding principles of the system of International Law.

The United Nations is the primary International Organisation in the International Political and Legal arena. It facilitates such coordination and cooperation between states, as well as Non-State entities such as Non-Governmental Organisations and Multi-National Corporations. One of The UN’s primary organs is the Security Council, which has the primary responsibility to maintain International Peace and Security and has the power to promote effective cooperation between states using its powers to pass enforceable resolutions. In the face of arguably the most significant security threat that the world has faced in the recent past, the Security Council has come under much scrutiny for its absenteeism. Estonia, the UNSC president for May, has called the Security Council’s handling of Covid-19 a shame, further stating that the UN body has not fulfilled its responsibilities of tackling the outbreak of Covid-19.

The global nature of this pandemic clearly brings forth the dire need for international cooperation in order to counter the effects of this crisis. This effectively puts the United Nations Security Council at the forefront of any efforts to pave the way for this cooperation. In light of the recent criticism of its inability to do so, the paper seeks to analyze important issues pertaining to the role of the UNSC, its responsibilities, and powers, as well as possible actions that the Council could undertake.

The Security Council’s Mandate and Jurisdiction

The Security Council currently derives its powers to deal with the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus from past precedent as well as from a purposive interpretation of the United Nations charter. Whilst matters of health are primarily the concern of another UN body, the world health organization, the Security Council has previously discussed and debated global health emergencies, as in the case of Ebola and SARS. The UN charter, in article 24(1), gives a general characterization the Security Council’s functions and powers, which is the responsibility of upholding International peace and security. In the UNSC Resolution 2177 surrounding the Ebola crisis in West Africa, it was declared that the outbreak comes under the duties and jurisdiction of the Security Council as the communicable disease is a threat to International Peace and Security, as it could pose a threat to the stability of nations if it remains unchecked. An analysis of these principles established by the Council itself shows that the Coronavirus is a global issue that the Security Council must deal with, as it threatens International Peace and Security for five reasons. Firstly, the outbreak spans national borders and has become a global issue with an international nature, requiring an International coordinating mechanism. Secondly, it poses a significant threat to the stability of the countries affected, which has affected 213 countries as of June 1, 2020, in that it could lead to civil unrest as well as social tensions, while also affecting the political and security climate. Thirdly, the outbreak is very likely to have exceeded the economic capacity of many governments to respond, thereby outlining the need for International Action appropriately. Fourth, it has taken the lives of more than 374,569 people, as of June 1, 2020. Fifth, it would have a devastating impact on the economy the countries affected by the Coronavirus, and by extension, on the world economy. All of these reasons pose a clear threat to international peace and stability and therefore calls for immediate action by the Security Council. In the next section, the paper seeks to analyze the possible mechanisms that the Security Council could adopt in order to deal with the crisis.

What the Security Council must do

The Security Council must effectively utilize its greatest asset, the ability to coordinate a global response by the member states to combat the effects of the pandemic on the global economy as well as on human health. The Security Council, unlike the WHO, has the ability to coordinate the efforts of different countries and create binding obligations on all member countries to help counter the Coronavirus.

The Security Council, therefore, has the ability to complement the efforts made by the WHO by ensuring that the Member States do not act unilaterally to merely respond to the crisis in their countries, but adopt the more beneficial global approach. The Security Council could, therefore, convert WHO recommendations, in particular those relating to the sharing of scientific information, as well as medical and humanitarian aid amongst countries into binding Security Council resolutions. These resolutions would then become the International Law obligations of the member states, pursuant to Article 25 of the UN charter. They would, therefore, serve as a significant boost to the WHO’s efforts in combating the crisis. Furthermore, the Security Council could provide the impetus for a global coordinating mechanism for Vaccine development in order to boost the efforts made in the field of medical science through multilateral efforts.

The Security Council must also address the implications of the pandemic on the Global Economy. Several economists predict that the Coronavirus would have a devastating impact on the global economy. The Security Council must address these issues through targeted aid, as well as by using coordination mechanisms between countries and the major financial institutions on the global level, such as the World Bank and the IMF. The Security Council is perhaps the only global institution that could coordinate an effective economic response at the moment and must do so immediately, in order to ensure that the global economy is not damaged beyond repair. The Security Council must aim to harmonize national responses, which could include monetary policy, public health interventions as well as stimulus packages in order to address the economic implications of the outbreak.

The Global Response to the Healthcare crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak stands on the access and availability of healthcare goods that different countries enjoy. These “goods” primarily include masks, trained healthcare workers, protective equipment, ventilators, and in the future, would also include therapeutic treatment and vaccines. Traditionally, access to such goods has been severely inequitable in cases of a global outbreak, with distribution primarily guided by economic and political clout than actual need. This is further exemplified in the case of Intellectual Property rights and vaccines, which often make access to such vaccines to third world countries significantly costlier. This is majorly done at the benefit of the first world, which patents these vaccines and does not allow local companies to create the same vaccine in a cheaper manner in the third world without paying their due for using patented procedures. In the context of this crisis, these healthcare goods are in extremely short supply, with demand rising at unprecedented levels across most countries in the world. The Security Council has the ability to facilitate a global goods coordinating mechanism, through which the production and distribution of such goods could be achieved, in order to ensure equitable access to such goods. This could further engage with Multi-national corporations that participate in the production of such supplies in order to create a mechanism to target areas where these goods are most needed. This would be a significant aid to the states most affected by the crisis, as the UN would help facilitate the routing of these healthcare goods to the countries with the direst needs. Such a mechanism, based on cooperation, could significantly help focus and redirect resources to the most impacted areas, especially those countries that may not be able to afford and produce such goods currently.

Political Implications and Concluding Remarks

The world currently faces a global crisis of an unprecedented level. The United Nations, unlike previous crises, has not been at the forefront of this crisis, which now involves virtually all the countries of the world. At the forefront of this inaction is the conflict between China and the USA regarding responsibility for the Virus, and the role of the WHO. The countries of the European Union are operating as a separate entity altogether. China and Russia are seemingly concerned with their own state apparatus, rather than on a global response. There exists a significant void of consistent political leadership to guide a global response to the crisis. However, as the crisis worsens with every passing day, the hope that countries would come to the realization that a global response is the only way to resolve a crisis of this nature grows stronger. There is still time for the world’s most prominent International Organisation to take action. The paper presents a mechanism that the Security Council could adopt to help diminish the effects of the crisis on the world, both in terms of impacts on health and on the global economy. These emergency measures are in the interests of the world at large and are therefore likely to be adopted by the countries of the Security Council, regardless of their political considerations.

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International Law

Grappling press and Crutching Democracies

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Authors: Saumya Singh and Rajesh Ranjan*

The central tenets of liberal democracy which forms the cornerstone of its provenance, subsist in the Separation of Power among the three organs of the State viz Legislature, Judiciary and, Executive. The democratic system is widely countenanced across the Globe, being predicated on the electorates, who have the authority to elect or defenestrate a political party from the office. The informed opinion, a denouement of Free Press, provides a helm to the electorates to poise democracy and, eschew its dilapidation or debilitation. Being a watchdog, the Press foreshadows the veracity of the functions performed in proportionate tothe functions as asserted by the Government to be performed, thus, holding them answerable and accountable. Thereby, Press is considered a fourth pillar as it typifies Democracy. It acts as an oscillating factor between the two extremes, scilicet the Government and the governed, and makes an endeavor to subdue the state of incommunicado.

Irrespective of the paramount importance of media, it is garroted by mutually contrived attempts in various democratic countries. The Freedom to express and the expressions to be understood are imperiled due to the stinted press; a road to dampened democracy. The Freedom to seek, impart, receive and disseminate information is ostensibly floundering as the autonomous media sector is relegated in some of the most influential democracies. The constant vilification or cracking down of the Press has undermined its paramountcy, autonomy and has rendered it obsequious. The independency of the Press is enthralled within the confines of Confirmation Bias and Filter bubble, puissant factors hidden somewhere within the human psyche. The critical voice of the people, a cherished possession of democracy, is forsaken by the elected leaders.

The Corona pandemic has necessitated the subsistence of free and robust media but the Government has withered it by imposing an aurora of restrictions. Mr. Antonio Guetress, the UN Secretary General, averred that Free Press curbs the pandemic of mis, mal and, disinformation by providing verified, scientific and fact-based news. Antithetical to the view undertaken by the erstwhile, Political leaders being opportunistic are employing the crisis to excoriate Journalism by punishing Journalists, which is a sobering reminder of the threat imposed on democratic liberties. This has been espoused by many leading democracies and autocratic states, as a way of combating permeation of information disorder in the digital milieu. Amid the already ailing and pre-existing vulnerableness, the desperate grapple of the Press Freedom is exacerbated by COVID-19 outbreak. The Country like India has stopped the regular press- briefing, which was meant to inform the Citizens regarding the intricacies of Corona. In the garb of this Humanitarian crisis the World leading democracies has gridlocked the Conduit of information, through direct and indirect means. The trump’s recent executive order to attenuate legal protections to those platform which censors speech for ideological reasons relevels that the leaders’ across the globe are in the quest of embedded journalism.

Flouting Press Freedom across the Globe

Journalism, across the Globe has fallen prey to the concerted acts of the authorities in cracking down on Press Freedom. Journalist are facing physical assault, threat, intimidation calls and are even being criminalized for disseminating any information which is not a friendly and biased propaganda. Journalism is being regulated through exerting financial pressure, co-opting, legislations criminalizing misinformation, fake news and rumor mongering, psychological abuse, sexual harassment and, criminal defamation. The Governments are using the laws at their convenience for harsh reprisal and stamping over Press liberties. Combating fake news can undermine critical journalism, which aids the electorates in the conformation of informed opinion. The report commissioned by UNESCO portends how free press will fall victim to the laws enunciated to curb the rampage spread of fake news. The goal of the authorities is to force media to take a subservient role in democracy by sub serving the Government.

In order to silence the critical media outlets, either the Journalists are being expelled, murdered, framed, assaulted, harassed, imprisoned and are even abducted or the media outlets are shut down and social media sites are blocked. In the specimen, framing charges against Maria Ressa, Uon Chinn and Siddharth Varadarajan, for tax evasion, espionage and reporting on a minister violating lockdown norms, respectively, blocking of Al Jazeera in Bangladesh, bombing the home of Shillong Times Editor, Patrician Mukhim, killing of GauriLankesh, Shujaat Bukhari, Eduardo Dizon, imprisonment of Kishore Chandra Wangkhem and, Li Zehua being missing et all.

In the world’s most populous democracy, India, every attempt has been made to stifle public narratives and to refrain access to information from deadening station’s uplink to blocking news channels. Incumbent Indian government has solicited news executive to publish only ‘positive, optimistic and inspiring stories’ to foreshadow Governments efforts and, has also knocked the doors of SC to direct the media sector to publish only official records. The extent of deterioration of press freedom can be mapped by the murder of a crusading and intrepid Journalist, Gauri Lankesh, in 2017. Modi Government bristles at the accusations of corruption, economic recession, and human rights violations, exacerbation of hate or bias crimes and accretion in white collar crimes. The political acumen of Modi has led to hero-worship by curtailing critical journalism and espousing friendly outlets. The parable of anti- national element to every dissent is a threat to the democracy.  The commitment of current Indian regime to encourage a free and robust media sector and, stamping out Press Freedom by hindering it to inform the public, is oxymoronic. The government endeavors to improve the social cohesion by blemishing it, viz transforming a religiously diverse nation into Hindutva propounders. The mainstream media in India has become a voice of the mandatory and choose to form the narrative which suits the state and incumbent party.

The aristocratic countries, Russia and Hungary, are nailing more power by exploiting access to information in the veneer of battling the unprecedented pandemic. In Russia, if a person or media outlets disseminates fake information about corona virus, can be fined up to €23,000 and imprisonment up to 5 years, in the erstwhile, and a fine of €117,000 in the latter case. Serbia has centralized all the information related to COVID-19 crisis. Other European nations with exiguous media freedom, Romania and Bulgaria, are introducing emergency decrees by enacting and amending laws to control public narratives, to report or shut down the websites spreading fake news sans the right to appeal, to ban publishing or broadcast of any personal opinion, to extend the time limit to answer Freedom of Information requests and, to penalize the spread of fake news.

The modus operandi of the elected leaders in recourse with the fundamental right of access to information has opened a Pandora box. Democracy is built on the Citizen’s access to information and the use of the information to make democracy participative in nature.  The virus has sparked the debate on not only on the future of globalization but also on the democracy, rights of the people, nature of the state and the most significantly the morrow of the nature of  relationship between the State and its citizens. The tamed Citizen, the surveilling state, and deprived masses are redefining the global democracy and posing the question of its existence.  The changing face of information and increasing information warfare, and the elected authoritarian leaders will decide the integrity and resilient nature of Constitutional democracies. 

*Rajesh Ranjanis2nd year law student at NLU Jodhpur and Founding editor at Socio -legal -literary.

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What Effect Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Have on Migration Issues?

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Labour migration in Russia has suffered the shocks of the pandemic and the coming economic crisis, bringing about major changes to its present and future. Even today, many migrants find themselves in the difficult position of having to wait for the restrictive measures to be lifted, and their prospects of going home are vague (due to the borders being temporarily closed, as well as the fact that their home countries suffer from unemployment). Additionally, the access of migrants to the Russian labour market is shrinking rapidly. But do the massive changes that have taken place in 2020 constitute a turning point? How significant will their impact on the future of labour migration in Russia be? How will the situation in Russia be affected (and how much has it already been affected) by the changes in the Eurasian and global migration systems that have been brought about by barriers to migration that have only appeared recently? [1]

The Global Context

The “perfect storm” that has combined the coronavirus pandemic, a dramatic drop in oil prices, the unfolding economic crisis (that is worse than the crises of the last decades), the closing of borders between states (including borders within regional unions such as the EU and the EAEU), the sharp restrictions in international trade, the long-term demand for political populism in most host countries stemming from playing the “migrant card,” the drought expected in Europe and the United States, and the unprecedented plague of locusts in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, will all make it far more difficult to manage migration flows throughout the world.

The consequences of this “perfect storm” that is unfolding before our eyes are so significant that they have prompted a series of negative forecasts, ranging from doubling the scale of the expected famine (according to the United Nations World Food Programme, or WFP, over 265 million people across the globe may face acute food shortages by the end of 2020, which is 130 million more than predicted in 2019) to predicting a revision of the outcomes of globalization, partially abolishing the global division of labour and gradually drifting towards the principle of the self-sufficiency of national economies (if governments fail to take control of the crisis within a year). All these forecasts focus on factors that will ultimately affect migration processes, from prompting new refugee flows out of Africa to the increased vulnerability of migrant workers in most host countries.

New Changes and Changes Long Underway

Rapid changes taking place all over the world in 2020 have altered the challenges involved in controlling migration.

Over the past few decades, Russia has seen major changes in external migration, including differentiation of inbound flows (an increase in the share of families migrating, more migrant women and children, and greater age diversity); growing numbers of migrants from small towns and rural areas; falling education and income levels, as well as greater cultural diversity (including languages and faiths), among newly arriving migrants; and a change in the structure of migration flows, with migrants from Central Asia dominating.

On the other hand, the main incentives for migration to the Russian Federation have not changed: Russia has the best economic situation within the Eurasian migration system; it has an aging population and thus needs a labour force, including unskilled workers. Demand for unskilled labour is evidenced by a stable inbound flow of migrant workers who are mostly employed in unskilled, physically demanding and low-paying (as seen from the calculations of person-hours) jobs.

Migrant workers have essentially become an integral part of Russia’s labour market, and the changes that have taken place in labour migration over recent decades, coupled with the emergence and growth of a “parallel community” with “migrant” services and infrastructure, make their rapid and large-scale return home less likely. For many of them, Russia has already become a second home, and their principal hope for a better future. Nevertheless, some migrant workers will go home in 2020 (let us not forget that many of them are natives of small towns and rural areas who will be able to sustain themselves through their small farmsteads), although the contributing countries have very limited opportunities for supporting their returning citizens. For instance, experts propose giving away land in rural areas and decreasing the tax burden.

Recent expert reviews analyzing the effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had on labour migration mostly focus on the short term, while predictions of falling labour migration into Russia use the 2008 and 2014 crises as points of reference. However, the 2020 economic crisis in Russia has its own specifics: the economic situation has deteriorated sharply, and the pandemic has only added to its woes; there has been a sharp drop in oil prices; international sanctions have continued; borders have been closed and economic activities suspended. Another important factor is the social anxiety that the people of Russia have increasingly experienced over the past several years, which has been exacerbated by the negative socio-economic consequences that can already be observed (small and medium-sized businesses closing, large numbers of Russian citizens being laid off and having difficulties paying their mortgages, the vulnerability of mass medical services that has been highlighted by the pandemic, etc.). The state’s mitigating response has been slow in coming, even though it involves minimal costs. Consequently, we can predict an unstable socio-economic (and even political) situation, which will lead to issues of managing migration flows being relegated to the background, while homebound migrant flows will be greater than during previous crises.

The difficult situation today is fraught with unpleasant consequences both for migrant workers themselves and for the Russian labour market. In the coming months, migrant workers will be partially pushed out from the niches of Russia’s legal labour market in big cities. We know this from past experience (the crises of 2008–2010 and 2014–2016). However, purchasing power, which has been limited by the economic crisis, will work major changes in the shadow sector as well, curtailing the number of jobs even in those businesses that do not pay taxes (or do not pay them in full) and minimize their expenditures by way of the super-exploitation of labour. The shadow sector of the labour market is expected to grow. Foreign workers will compete with Russian citizens, and migrants will have certain advantages here, such as a willingness to work for lower hourly wages and in hazardous conditions, including those that are detrimental to their health. Today, the expected drop in quality of life in contributing countries (due, in part, to smaller money transfers from Russia) makes migrant workers a group that easily offers itself up for super-exploitation.

The changes that have taken place on the Russian labour market as a result of the pandemic (increased numbers of delivery persons, greater numbers of white-collar employees switching to online work, etc.) mean that jobs in delivery services that unemployed Russian citizens typically take as stop-gap solutions until they find a more permanent position will go to foreign workers in the medium term. The caregiving services (domestic workers) will continue to grow due to the aging of the Russian population, which will open up new opportunities for foreign citizens. In the medium term, agriculture will also offer more jobs to foreigners.

Two opposing trends will develop: the state will strive to collect more taxes, and entrepreneurs will strive to minimize their expenditures by hiring more foreigners, sometimes semi-legally and sometimes entirely illegally.

Obviously, in both the short and medium term, at greater or lesser pace, migration legislation will continue to be liberalized and the management of migration flows will become more flexible. For instance, during the pandemic, the President issued an executive order that eased the situation of migrants. In addition, a law was passed allowing those who wish to become Russian citizens to keep their previous citizenship, temporary residence permits were abolished and categories for obtaining Russian citizenship were introduced. These developments appear to be links in the chain of this gradual liberalization, no matter how slow it might be.

The events of 2020 will increase the number of foreign citizens willing to obtain a Russian residence permit or Russian citizenship, particularly among migrant workers who have years of experience living and working in Russia. Given the increasing competition with Russian citizens, migrant workers who want to reduce their outgoings will strive to improve their employability, and acquiring a more protected status will help them minimize risks in terms of finding employment and a place to live.

In the short term, when the restrictive measures imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic are lifted, emigration of Russian citizens, including skilled workers, might increase against the background of the economic crisis. Educational migration from post-Soviet states (states contributing to Russia-bound migration) will increase, and the number of migrants studying at Russian vocational educational institutions whose graduates have good employment prospects in Russia will noticeably increase.

Many experts expect an uptick in Russia political activity among the Russian people after the pandemic. This may lead to populist parties enjoying more influence in political life, using xenophobic and migrant-phobic myths to boost their popularity.

Migration Challenges for Russia

The changes that have already taken place and are taking place now have brought the issue of modernizing migration challenges in Russia to the foreground.

Crime and Terrorism

Foreigners have never accounted for more than 3–4 per cent of all crimes committed in Russia, as attested by the official data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. Even given the difficult circumstances that migrant workers have found themselves in over the past few months, we can confidently say that crime is unlikely to surge among them. Their long-term plans are geared towards working in Russia, and Russia has strict rules in place that involve deportation after two offenses (including administrative offenses), followed by a lengthy ban on entering the country. These two factors are a powerful deterrent against any illegal activities. Migrant workers typically find themselves breaking the law when it is difficult for them to overcome the barriers to their acquiring legal status in a lawful manner, and when it is cheaper to solve their immigration issues through illegal means. We are talking about buying fake registrations cards and/or employment contracts, not felonies that involve harm to life or health. However, such situations raise more questions about the height of the hurdles that migrants must overcome in order to obtain legal status than about the migrants themselves.

In both the short and medium term, mass migration into Russia is unlikely to generate an increased terrorist threat. However, terrorism challenges will become more relevant in the long term if the state withdraws the previous funding for integratory measures aimed at migrants of all categories, including the integration of foreign-born Russian citizens, particularly children of naturalized migrants. Additionally, given the possible increase in nationalistic sentiments and the growing numbers of terrorist attacks and right-wing crimes, targeting migrants will become a serious long-term challenge.

Healthcare

The risk of the coronavirus and other infectious diseases quickly spreading among migrants is rather high: studies show that migrants tend to live in overcrowded conditions, have limited resources for purchasing protective equipment and medication, are poorly aware of the recommended preventive measures, and generally do not have medical coverage as the price of even the most medical insurance that would include semi-regular check-ups is prohibitively high for them [2]. Consequently, healthcare for migrants is the gravest challenge of all. Migrants fall under the most vulnerable categories during pandemics throughout the world, not just in Russia. International organizations have already voiced this problem.

Growing Xenophobia and Migrant-Phobia

It is possible that xenophobia and migrant-phobia in Russia may grow, and with Russian citizens losing jobs in large numbers, the possibility will only increase. In times of economic crisis, migrants are traditionally seen as competition for Russian citizens who work in menial jobs, which is only fair if heavily qualified, yet this idea is actively explored by populist politicians. Migrant- and xenophobia are unlikely to lead to serious ethnically motivated conflicts in the near future, but it will certainly increase the popularity of political parties and movements that use anti-migrant rhetoric.

Closed Borders

The situation of foreign migrants has already deteriorated significantly due to the restrictions on inbound, outbound and domestic travel imposed during the pandemic. These restrictions apply equally to Russian citizens and the citizens of the EAEU states. Travel barriers being lifted gradually will hardly result in a quick and full recovery of the migration opportunities that existed before the pandemic. This is also a major challenge, since restrictions on the free movement of labour curtail both regional and international economic growth pace.

Increased Job Competition

The upsurge in unemployment in Russia that began in March–April 2020 and is expected to continue in the coming months will increase the competition between Russian citizens and migrant workers somewhat in the short term. In the medium term, the decrease in the size of the working-age population will weaken this competition. However, if the negative scenario materializes (see below), domestic migration will push job competition between Russian citizens and migrants in large cities to higher levels than before the pandemic.

Depopulation of Russian Provinces

One challenge that has invited little discussion is domestic migration, including seasonal work, i.e. Russian citizens from economically depressed regions travelling for seasonal work to regions that are the strongest economically. Crisis phenomena will spur on domestic migration, especially after the peak of the pandemic has been passed, and this will lead to the faster depopulation of Siberia and the Russian Far East. This is a long-term challenge.

The “Brain Drain”

The emigration of skilled workers from Russia will continue to be partially offset by the influx of talented and educated professionals, primarily young persons, from post-Soviet states. This includes educational migration. A small uptick in the “brain drain” from Russia can be expected in the short term, mostly due to the narrowing windows of opportunity for the young generation due to the socio-economic crisis in Russia, and inbound migration will not entirely offset Russia’s “brain drain.”

Prospects and Conclusions

As of right now, in May 2020, it is difficult to make any accurate estimates about the migration consequences of the “perfect storm” that we are currently experiencing. Not until the pandemic ends and the socio-economic crisis that is brewing becomes clearer. Nevertheless, some consequences for the global community, as well as for Russia, can be seen quite clearly even now.

The International Situation

In the coming years, migrants around the world will experience greater labour exploitation and become increasingly vulnerable. This will be due, among other things, to the growing poverty in countries that contribute to the workforce, as well as to the growing need for migrants to transfer money back home.

Against the background of tightened restrictions and greater obstacles to legal migration, both undocumented (illegal) migration and human trafficking will increase.

Famine and social unrest (including armed conflicts) stemming from unresolved problems with food supplies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East will increase the risks of new refugee flows.

If deglobalization does not lead to outright border closures and integration associations shutting themselves off (for instance, the European Union closing its borders), then it may, to a greater or lesser degree, result in new restrictions on migration. Having said that, the triumph of globalization is that it has been interfering with or even destroying the self-sufficiency of most countries for decades, increasing their dependence on the international division of labour, tourism, and trade. The cutting of international ties during the pandemic has worsened the situation in all states that depend on international supply chains. Consequently, a new upsurge in industrialization and reindustrialization in both developed and developing countries appears quite realistic. In the medium and long term, this development will bolster the demand for both skilled and unskilled workers and result in the obstacles to migration flows being somewhat relaxed.

Russia

Russia fits into most of the global trends outlined above.

In the short term, the EAEU partnership will take on more pragmatic, or perhaps stricter, forms. However, migration flows will not shrink. Instead, they will change their format: shadow labour relations will increase, as will the number of human rights violations; labour protection standards will deteriorate, and human trafficking will be on the rise. Thus far, the negative consequences of these changes are hard to assess, but in the medium term (the next three to four years), Russia can expect to see the following scenarios, all of which directly depend on the socio-economic measures the government adopts in the short term.

1. The optimistic scenario.

Once the restrictive measures are lifted, the Government of the Russian Federation will launch intensive purchasing power support by pouring money into the economy and helping it emerge from the “slowdown,” with special attention being paid to small- and medium-sized businesses [3]. Demand for migrant labour (both skilled and unskilled) will gradually increase, and in the medium term, those migrant workers who had gone into the shadow economy immediately after the restrictive measures were lifted and those who had temporarily returned home will have more opportunities for legal employment.

Centripetal trends in domestic migration (people moving to Central Russia) will remain in place, but there will be no major increases in seasonal workforce. Educational migration in Russia will continue at the same pace and will gradually become differentiated due to the influx of foreign students into Russian vocational educational institutions. Migration legislation will be further liberalized, thus stimulating the legal employment of Migrant workers. Considerable attention will be paid to the influx of skilled labour and to curtailing the “brain drain.”

This scenario implies migration flows returning to their previous levels in the short term and gradually increasing in the medium term.

2. The pessimistic scenario.

The Russian economy is slow to recover. Solvent demand is low. Real unemployment is growing. Jobs in economic niches that had been traditionally occupied by migrants are moving into the shadow economy. Migration-related corruption does not drop, or even grows and becomes a part of everyday life, making it more difficult for the authorities to manage the migration system. Business owners, particularly small business owners, prefer to hire migrant workers off the books. Super-exploitation of migrants continues or even increases. Non-payment of wages and other elements of human trafficking are not suppressed effectively and become more widespread. Foreign workers (including workers from Central Asia) are partially re-oriented to other labour markets. The “brain drain” and emigration from Russia continue, mainly in the form of young people.

Domestic migration into Central Russia is on the rise, as is seasonal work. Educational migration to Russia shows little growth, but Russian vocational educational institutions attract more foreign students. The liberalization of migration legislation slows down.

In this scenario, the migration flow will recover within the next one to three years.

Just which scenario will appear depends directly on the socio-economic situation in Russia and on the stability of its political development. Right now, the second (pessimistic) scenario appears more realistic.

[1]Ivakhniuk I.V. The Eurasian Migration System: Theory and Policies. Moscow: MAKS Press, 2008 (in Russian).

[2] Poletaev D. V. and Y. F. Florinskaya. Migrant Awareness of Tuberculosis and HIV. Moscow: Krasny Krest, 2015.

[3] When Does Russia’s Economy Pass the Point of No Return? Working Paper. April 2020. Institute of Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Institute for the Economy of Growth. http://stolypin.institute/institute/kogda-budet-proydena-tochka-nevozvrata-dlya-rossiyskoy-ekonomiki/

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