ALMATY -- The US government has allocated $2 million to protect migrants in Central Asia during the coronavirus pandemic.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has created a humanitarian and financial crisis for millions of migrants in Central Asia, many of whom have been stranded in transit and destination countries across Central Asia," the US embassies in all five Central Asian countries said in a joint statement.
During the crisis, migrants have lost their jobs and cannot send money to their families. At the same time, they lack legal protection and information on how to shield themselves from the virus, it added on May 26.
USAID will provide crucial aid, including information resources, referrals for services, support for alternative livelihoods and skill training, the embassy said.
The initiative will protect migrants' rights by offering access to legal and mental health support.
Financial assistance is crucial for migrants amid self-isolation, said Prof. Irina Chernykh, an Almaty native who works at Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, a German NGO.
"Someone who is working in some country or other as a migrant worker might not be able to leave that country," she said.
"In addition, the conditions migrants live in are not very comfortable and sometimes border on unsanitary, with a large concentration of people in small residences," Chernykh added, noting that this situation results in an increased risk of contracting the coronavirus.
International organisations can and must help migrants in need, but the way they deliver money to them is important, she said.
"Financial aid can be distributed to migrants with settled migration status through their employers, no matter what country they're in, because in that case the situation is completely transparent -- they are registered and working legally. Then the migrants themselves will decide what they want to spend that money on," Chernykh said.
"But if a migrant with an unsettled status is in a gray area, local NGOs could get involved. Kazakhstan has many NGOs, and they help migrants who have ended up in difficult living situations, lost their papers or have even been enslaved," Chernykh said.
They offer migrants not only legal help but also financial assistance, and in some cases they even provide housing. Thus the help that USAID wants to offer migrants during the coronavirus pandemic could be allocated through local NGOs because their workers monitor the flow of migrants in their regions and work with them, Chernykh said.
"As it happens, the NGOs that work with migrants are affiliated with the International Organisation for Migration, which has offices in Almaty and Nur-Sultan," she added.
During this challenging period, the allocation of money will be welcome support for migrants, said Madiyar Kenzhebulat, senior researcher at the Centre for Macroeconomic Research and Forecasting in Nur-Sultan.
"The aid could be made available as food because those who are truly experiencing hardship will come for it. Along with food, you could distribute educational brochures advising what coronavirus symptoms to watch out for and where one can go for help," he said.
"Alternatively, you could hand out money but specifically to migrants who are on the verge of poverty. They need this support right now, when they've lost their jobs and consequently their means of support," Kenzhebulat added.
When construction restarts in countries where migrants work -- and it will resume because construction has been a traditional crisis response measure -- they will be working again, he said.