The Geneva-based International Labor Organization (ILO) has expressed concern over the fate of tens of millions of migrant workers forced to return home after losing their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement, ILO said that as containment measures ease, millions of migrant workers may be required to return home to low- and middle-income countries where already fragile labor markets are further weakened by the additional strain of high levels of unemployment and serious business disruptions.

Their families are bound to suffer financially from the loss of remittances regularly sent home, the ILO warned.

In the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs said a total of 55,468 overseas workers have been repatriated. More than 30,000 seafarers have disembarked from their ships and were sent home while 24,727 land-based workers were also affected by the pandemic.

In an earlier interview, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Benjamin Diokno said he expected a reduction of at least 10 percent from last year’s personal remittances, which reached $33.5 billion. Cash remittances reached $30.1 billion last year.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said 60,000 Filipino migrant workers have returned to the country as of June 25.

The ILO said even those with work might have been taking reduced wages and living in cramped worksite residences where social distancing was impossible, placing them at greater risk of contracting the virus. Many displaced workers may have settled for working informally.

“This is a potential crisis within a crisis,” said Manuel Tomei, firector of the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Equality Department.

There are 164 million migrant workers worldwide, nearly half of them women, accounting for 4.7 percent of the global labor force. Informal ILO research in more than 20 countries indicates that many millions were expected to return home.

The ILO said returning migrant workers would bring skills and talent that could help their home economies rebuild better after the pandemic.

To unlock this potential, there is a need to establish a rights-based and orderly return and reintegration systems, access to social protection, and proper skills recognition, the ILO said.

Migrant workers may also bring knowledge and capital to open new businesses that can further improve employment opportunities, the ILO said.

“With the right policies, the return of these workers can be converted into a resource for recovery,” said Michelle Leighton, chief of ILO’s Labor Migration Department.

Successful reintegration programs will reduce tensions in home countries, where some communities may fear returning migrants may bring the virus or even take jobs away, the ILO said.

Rebuilding the livelihood strategies of returning migrants will allow them to pay debts related to their original recruitment abroad, avoiding the risk of forced labor and human trafficking or re-migration through irregular pathways, it added. Melo M. Acuña