Jagan Chapagain, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said many people in poverty faced the desperate choice of risking exposure to the virus or going hungry.
“Increasingly we are seeing in many countries the impacts on the livelihoods and the food situation,” he said in Geneva late Wednesday.
“What we hear is that many people who are losing livelihoods, once the borders start opening, will feel compelled to move,” he said. “We should not be surprised if there is a massive impact on migration in the coming months and years.”
Chapagain, from Nepal, told AFP that more migration driven by desperation could result in more tragedies, such as deaths at sea. He said there was an economic as well as moral imperative to help those most in need.
“The cost of supporting the migrants, during the transit and of course when they reach the country of destination, is much more than supporting people in their livelihoods, education, health needs in their own country,” he said.
He also warned that inequalities in access to healthcare could prompt further migration.
“People could feel that there is a better chance of survival on the other side of the sea,” he said, adding that another major factor would be “the availability of vaccines.”
“If people see that the vaccine is say, for example, available in Europe but not in Africa, what happens? People want to go to a place where vaccines are available,” Chapagain said.
He condemned efforts by some countries to secure vaccine supplies for their own people first.
“The virus crosses the border, so it is pretty short-sighted to think that I vaccinate my people but leave everybody else without vaccination, and we will still be safe,” he said. “It simply doesn’t make sense.”