Migration in South Asia: Poverty and Vulnerability


Migration in South Asia: Poverty and Vulnerability was published on September 4, 2020, by South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (a network of individuals and organisations focused on poverty and human rights in the region).

The publication discusses poverty and migration within and outside eight South Asian countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It explores the effects of migration on the individual, family and community, as well as the laws relating to migration in these countries. The report also covers the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on internal and external migration in the region.

The 165-page report contains seven chapters: Conceptualising Migration in South Asia (Chapter 1); Migration Scenario of South Asia: Drivers, ‘Core Determinants’ and Issues (Chapter 2); Women’s Migration in South Asia (Chapter 3); Poverty and Inequality in South Asia: State Responses (Chapter 4); State Responses to Migration, Emigration and Refugees (Chapter 5); Impact of Covid-19 on Migration in South Asia (Chapter 6); and Conclusions: What is the Way Forward? (Chapter 7).


  1. Data from the government of India’s National Sample Survey Office (now the National Statistical Office) indicates an increase in interstate migration in the country between 1999-2000 and 2007-2008 in two main streams: rural to urban, and urban to urban. In this period, rural to urban migrants increased from 19.6 to 25.2 per cent, and urban to urban migrants increased from 19.9 to 22.9 per cent.

  2. Bangladesh and Nepal have seen rapid urban development since the 1960s. Bangladesh reported a negative rural population growth in 2018 – states the report – and Nepal’s population growth rate for urban areas is over three times that of rural areas.

  3. The proportion of Sri Lanka’s urban population in 2018 is comparable to what it was in the 1960s. The report states that this could be because there is less disparity between rural and urban incomes in the country.

  4. Years of unrest in Afghanistan has caused widespread economic devastation in the country. An estimated 2.6 million Afghans live as refugees in Iran, and 1.5 million in Pakistan.

  5. The United Nations Development Programme’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) is based on 10 indicators that fall under three dimensions of poverty: health, education and standard of living. The 2019 MPI estimated that 41.7 per cent of Bangladesh’s population was in ‘multidimensional poverty’, followed by 38.3 per cent in Pakistan, 34 per cent in Nepal and 27.9 per cent in India.

  6. Volatile agricultural prices have a major impact on rural economies. The absence of warehousing facilities and support price policies by the government, as well as acute market competition from imported agricultural produce, are also factors that exacerbate such damage. This leads to the migration of small and marginal farmers, and farm labourers, to other regions and sectors of employment. The report cites a 2018 study which says that 76 per cent of Indian farmers are willing to do work other than farming, and 61 per cent among them are willing to move to cities for work.

  7. In most South Asian countries, natural disasters continue to be a major cause for internal displacement and forced migration. Following the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, thousands of people got displaced within the country or moved to India. In 2014, floods displaced around 1.07 million people in Odisha, 812,000 people in Jammu and Kashmir, and 367,000 people in Assam and Meghalaya.

  8. The search for better employment is one of the main reasons why women in South Asia migrate. As per 2017 ILO estimates, there were around 50,000 migrant employees in the garment sector in Jordan, and they constituted about 75 per cent of female workers in the sector. These female workers were mostly from Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka.

  9. In August 2017, Myanmar’s military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims forced around 700,000 people to flee to Bangladesh. The United Nations described it as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” As per estimates by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, India has more than two lakh refugees and asylum seekers, and around 19,000 of them are Rohingya Muslims.

  10. The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in unemployment, pay cuts and temporary layoffs for many internal migrants in South Asia. This, among other factors, pushed several of them to return to their native places. In Aurangabad, Maharashtra, 16 migrants returning home to Madhya Pradesh were run over as they were sleeping on railway tracks thinking that trains were not plying during the lockdown.

  11. The Maldives has thousands of migrants from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Most of them lost their jobs during the pandemic and were struggling to return to their native places. By May 2020, India escorted back around 4,000 people who had lost their jobs. Around 1,000 Bangladeshis staying in the Maldives were repatriated. In contrast, Sri Lanka had brought back only 284 of the 7,000 Sri Lankans who were seeking repatriation by May 2020.

    Focus and Factoids by Sayani Rakshit.


South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication


South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication


04 Sep, 2020