published on Environmental Migration Portal, 22.10.2020, Online
In the debate on the 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 as 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 constitute a complex set of challenges for these 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 livelihoods 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.