Beyond remittances: diaspora play a key role in crisis-response

July 22, 2022

The Moldovan diaspora has sent money and products to support Ukrainian refugees in Moldova.

Photo: UNDP Moldova

Every 10th person in the Europe and Central Asia region is an emigrant, either temporary or permanently.

This region is a valuable source of migration both internally and outside its borders. Out of over 250 million of people, at least 10 percent are emigrants. People leave their homes for many reasons, ranging from economic and social to conflict-related and political. While many go to Europe, 80 percent of migrants in the ECIS actually choose to move within the region itself, with Turkey, Kazakhstan and Russia being main destinations.

The region is also experiencing the highest share of remittances as proportion of GDP, reaching a historic high in 2021 of US$74 billion [1]. This means that every year, around 25 million migrants send money home to around 100 million people who benefit from these flows. It is unquestionable that remittances are a vital source of income as well as a means of reducing poverty in the region. Yet there is much more meaning beyond this statement. 

Large diaspora communities have grown out of emigration from the region. Their engagement has grown beyond traditional remittances for their individual families into concrete development support, such as poverty reduction, economic growth or post-crisis recovery. Diasporas have also been a significant asset in supporting humanitarian action in their places of origin.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, diasporas have played an increasingly front-and-center role in assisting their communities. For example, Viorica Chelban, a Moldovan migrant residing in the UK, returned temporarily to her native village to support local doctors’ in their fight against the pandemic. She brought professional protection shields, designed a local action plan and provided daily support to doctors in treating the patients, until the situation was stable again.

The Uzbek diaspora in Europe launched the “Solidarity with Uzbekistan” campaign which raised $50,000 to provide food aid to 500 families in four regions of the country, assist people suffering from Covid-19, and tackle the consequences of the pandemic. The Armenian Diaspora held a videoconference between leading radiologists of New York University  School of Medicine and Armenian doctors to learn and exchange about global trends, most effective methods of treatment, recent scientific publications and their implication in practice, as well as US efforts to use artificial intelligence for tackling the pressing issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Albanian Diaspora donated 5,000 COVID-19 tests to the Ministry of Health and Social Protection in order to expand testing.

In a crisis context, this engagement alleviates negative effects on home countries and fellow citizens.  Diaspora communities have extensive knowledge, expertise, organizational abilities and accountability. Most importantly, they understand firsthand the demands of their compatriots. That is why their help goes far beyond financial support. They can contribute to the transfer of skills and knowledge and should be seen as valuable partners for Government and development agencies in providing complex and tailored responses to major events, such as a global pandemic or large refugee movements.

Ukrainian diaspora responds

Take the current war in Ukraine. In the first 4 months after the onset of the crisis, over 14 million people, most of them women and children, were forcibly displaced. The Ukrainian diaspora, estimated at some seven million and already actively engaged since 2014, provided immediate and crucial support. Through its over 1,000 Ukrainian Diaspora Organizations around the world, it responded by delivering economic, social and information services as well as humanitarian relief assistance. Initiatives include collecting food and clothes and sending money to buy basic necessities, as well as raising funds for post-war rebuilding. Ukrainian diaspora also initiated campaigns in their host countries to support women with accommodation, employment and documentation, and to enroll children and youth in kindergartens, schools and universities.

Diasporas now helping neighbors

The war in Ukraine is drawing unprecedented support and solidarity by diaspora communities of neighboring countries as well, such as Moldova, Poland and Hungary. Moldovan diaspora mobilized $160,000 to support the hosting of Ukrainian refugees in their native countries.  

Moldova is no stranger to diasporic support for its country’s ongoing development, transforming emigration into a driving force for local development. Through its network of over 160 Hometown Associations, members of the diaspora have contributed to over 300 local initiatives and projects in their communities, impacting over 350,000 people. Despite the impact the war in Ukraine has had on the Moldova, it has shown tremendous support. While national and local public authorities quickly responded to the immediate needs of the refugee population, numerous constraints dramatically challenged their capacities to address the steady inflow and additional interventions and support were needed.

Within three months, 29 hometown associations helped local authorities and communities provide the necessary assistance to refugees from Ukraine. And a big part came from the diaspora, who responded with financial and in-kind support.

Building resilience to respond to crisis

The rapid response was also possible thanks to UNDP Moldova’s Migration and Local Development Project, which was already working through the associations to connect Moldovan emigrants with their native localities. Such efforts have built strong trust and social cohesion at the local level, and also boosted diaspora engagement, keeping those abroad connected and invested in their place of origin. Together, UNDP, partner localities and associations have hosted more than 13,800 refugees so far.

Across the region, there are many examples where diasporas shared crucial information, gave advice and created an open dialogue to inspire other diaspora members to develop their own initiatives against the pandemic. These practices demonstrate how effective diaspora engagement strategies can quickly be leveraged to respond to crisis situations.

Initial engagements piloted by UNDP have forged the relationships to build more systematic cooperation between diaspora and local governments which were especially important during unforeseen crisis circumstances. These types of practices can be replicated to go beyond emergencies and accelerate the implementation of the SDGs. Working with governments to develop an institutional approach for engagement and interaction with the diaspora, we can create more sustainable and impactful relations.


[1] Number calculated based on the World Bank estimations as well as countries' national available data