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Migrant labour and care in times of COVID-19, an interview with Dr Megha Amrith

Dr Megha Amrith is the lead researcher of the ‘Ageing in a Time of Mobility’ Research Group at Max Planck Institute, in Germany. She and her team focus on ageing, migration and translocal mobility in Asia, Africa and South America. This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing her for the Nordic Asia Podcast, co-hosted by NIAS (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, in Copenhagen) and CEAS (Center for East Asian Studies in Turku).

You can listen to the podcast here:


Megha Amrith shares her insights on the current migration regimes in Asia and around the world, the undervalued work of nurses and carers and the heritage of colonialism still present today. “This pandemic is carrying a very heavy toll for caring professionals and nurses. They are essentially doing their jobs, but often times they are doing so under conditions of great physical and emotional strain, with a lot of anxiety and fear. This is because in a lot of countries, these professionals are not safe”, says Amrith.

‘This (caring) labour is valued in a pandemic situation, but ignored in other periods. This pandemic is laying bare a lot of uncomfortable truths, which are expressions of long-standing inequalities of the immigration regimes surrounding care’, remarks Amrith before introducing the case of the Philippines, where she has carried out a lot of her research.

Based on the intergenerational aspects of her research, Amrith notes how policy measures might aim to protect elderly people to stay home, but this is also leading to a reinforcement of the negative perceptions of ageing in our society. Megha Amrith also notes that for some people over 60 or 65, ‘this might be the first time they are considered ‘elderly’, which also says some things about how chronological age does not always match people feel ‘elderly’ “.

With an anthropology vision, Megha Amrith sheds light on the interconnectedness that characterises humans, both in the world and across generations. Younger people might be perceiving themselves as invencible in some cases, which neglects this societal interconnectedness. This dynamic is also connected to a downplaying of the value of older generations”. Intergenerational solidarity has also arised in the past weeks, however, from self-organised groups  supporting individuals who might not have been able to leave their homes to multigenerational households supporting each other across distance. From this, Amrith highlights: “It is so obvious how interdependent we are”.

To end, Megha Amrith emphasises the importance of anthropology. “I make a call for anthropological perspectives of care. They are crucial now, but also far beyond”.

Dr Megha Amrith is the author of the NIAS Press book ‘Caring for Strangers, Filipino Medical Workers in Asia‘ (2017). You can follow her on Twitter here.

The Nordic Asia Podcast is available in Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all other podcast apps. We upload new episodes twice a week, always interviewing leading researchers on fascinating, timely topics.


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