Going back to my rural roots: Covid 19 and return migration in northern Peru

T he research focuses on the migration of people who have moved from the urban centres to rural communities as a result of unemployment and physical, social and economic distress caused by the current pandemic. This project aims to explore and analyse the consequences that migration has had at the level of employment, livelihoods, access to healthcare (and other state resources), social support mechanisms, environment impact and household changes (including gender relations). 

The lock down in Peru, one of the most severe in Latin America, imposed by the military with a nightly curfew is due to be lifted at the end of the month. There is a very brief window to capture the experiences of those who have migrated from various urban centres back to rural communities, including those who will choose to return soon after lockdown has ended. The urgency of this project rests in the temporality of this migration, especially with regard to the responses that the rural communities hosting returnees have developed. What are the expectations of returnees? What is the socioeconomic and gender profile of those returning to their communities? Is this migration temporary or permanent?

This project is funded by the SFC Global Challenge Research Fund









Rural migrants in Peru during COVID-19. © Abdul Trelles, CIPCA, 2020.


Access the full report here: final report

María Luisa Burneo and Abdul Trelles*

*María Luisa Burneo is an anthropologist and researcher at the Institute of Peruvian Studies and professor at the Pontífica Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP). Abdul Trelles is an anthropologist and researcher at the Taller Etnológico de Cultura Política of the PUCP.

The following study was carried out as part of the research project: Going back to my rural roots: Covid-19 and return migration in northern Peru, financed by the Scottish Funding Council’s Global Challenges Research Fund awarded to the University of St Andrews for use by Ana Gutiérrez Garza and Nina Laurie, and the assistant Oliver Calle (registry number SGS0-XFC090, 2019-20).

Sign on the roadside during the peak of rural migration displaying the message “No Stopping”. © Abdul Trelles, CIPCA, 2020. 


The Centre for Peasant Research and Promotion (Centro de Investigación y Promoción del Campesinado, CIPCA) has an important tradition of developing research about socioeconomic and cultural processes in the Piura region, particularly in rural spaces. As part of this, CIPCA has contributed to knowledge production focused on making key aspects of this reality visible. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed latent structural problems in our society and has generated new phenomena. One of the principal ones being that of return migration, not only because of its abrupt start, but also because of its consequences for people’s lives and the destinations they have returned to.

The study “Return migration in the Alto Piura in the context of Covid-19” marks a small milestone for CIPCA. It has allowed us to restart research activities and is an opportunity to shape public policy proposals to ensure that they reflect the current reality of rural Peru.

The following research analyses the dynamics of return migration to Alto Piura in the context of the pandemic and promotes discussion of a set of issues that vulnerable populations face, which, apart from the initial displacement that the media covered extensively, has not been adequately addressed by the State. This omission is grave given that this phenomenon has impacted the lives of at least 165 thousand Peruvians, and in the case of Piura specifically, approximately 22 thousand people. Thus, up until now, the phenomenon of return migrants has not been addressed by public policy. There is no existing State agenda concerning the situation faced by these return migrants nor the territories which have received them. It is therefore necessary to deepen knowledge about return migration resulting from the pandemic, in order to develop and implement policies oriented towards providing a state response able to account for the multidimensionality of this phenomenon. This response should be inter-sectoral and will demand the coordination bewteen different levels of government.

CIPCA’s efforts towards this have been possible thanks to the invaluable support of the University of St Andrews, Scotland, United Kingdom, with whom CIPCA has an institutional relationship since 2017, generated by their researchers’ interest in consulting information about the El Niño Phenomenon collected in our Information Centre. The research project “Phenomenon of opportunities”, which the University runs in alliance with a range of institutions from our country, developed from this early collaboration. From this partnership, as well as our analysis of the realities of the problems in the Piura region unveiled by the Covid-19 pandemic, came the idea of the research project entitled “Going back to my rural roots: Covid-19 and return migration in northern Peru”. We express our appreciation to the University team, Professor Nina Laurie, Dr Ana Gutiérrez, and the Research Assistant Oliver Calle.

Finally, we thank the anthropologists María Luisa Burneo and Abdul Trelles, the main researchers on this study, for taking on the double task of contributing to restarting research activities in our institution and conducting research which included fieldwork in the midst of pandemic restrictions. We are also thankful to the CIPCA professionals who contributed to the conceptulaistion and implementation of the study, as well as the to the reflection, analysis, and revision of the document; particularly, Christian Flores, Henry García, Mario Rufino, Rocío Farfán, and Magaly Maza.

In these Covid-19 pandemic times, which have unveiled the inefficiencies of the State, social debt, as well as territorial and gender gaps, we hope this research will contribute to the reflection about migratory processes and their effects in rural spaces. In addition, we hope it brings attention to the situation of vulnerability faced by migrant people, particularly women; to the urgent need to address family agriculture, the main economic activity of these rural spaces; to the important role of organisations, particularly rondas campesinas (autonomous peasant patrols); and to the responsibility that the State has to confront this problem.

Rosa Prieto Mendoza

Executive Director



Since it was first founded in the early 1970s, CIPCA has played an important protagonist role in understanding the multiple and changing challenges facing campesinos in Piura, and more widely in Peru. This current publication, based on the first rigorous, empirical study to be undertaken and published on the experience of return migration in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in Peru, follows CIPCA’s long and esteemed history of critical development interventions. It builds on a collaboration with the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK, which first started in 2017, as part of the ‘Finger Printing El Niño Costero’ research project led by Newcastle University and funded by the Natural and Environment Research Council of the UK (NERC). This initial collaboration later developed into a formal partnership with the University of St Andrews to explore El Niño desert-food-systems in Sechura. This work has been funded by the Scottish Funding Council Global Challenge Research Fund (SFC GCRF) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the UK. Other collaborators on this research are the University of Piura, the National Agrarian University, La Molina and the NGO PRISMA.

As COVID-19 hit Peru, the challenges facing those seeking to return to their rural roots became of collective grave concern. Our ‘Rapid Response’ SFC GRCF grant was awarded in June 2020 to conduct the research presented here, just as Peru and the UK were coming out of lockdown. We are very grateful to the SFC GCRF for funding this ‘first of its kind’, original work, carried out by our CIPCA colleagues under very challenging circumstances, and also to the AHRC “Fishing and Framing in the desert” for facilitating the translation of findings into English.

The story of returnee migrant ‘Rever’, one of those shared in the pages that follow, shows clearly how intimately return migration stories are linked to wider life trajectories before the pandemic, which, in turn, shape imaginaries of possible futures. Rever, who had gained a knowledge about fishing in coastal Piura, was later able to put his skills to good use in Pucusana in order to finance his journey back from Lima. We have yet to know how the current moment will change any of us in terms of how we will be able imagine livelihoods and lives afterwards, what is clear, from this study, however, is that knowledge and understanding gained ‘in place’ are made mobile through our lives and experience.

Nina Laurie,

University of St. Andrews

October, 2020.


In the context of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the president Martín Vizcarra decreed a state of sanitary emergency and the “compulsory social isolation”[1] on the 15th of March 2020, thus restricting mobility in the national territory. Although necessary, one of the effects of the lockdown was the loss of income for millions of Peruvians. Six months after its implementation, it has been calculated that around 6 million 740 thousand Peruvians have lost their jobs.[2] This is largely explained by the fact that Peru is a country with a labour market characterised by a high percentage of informal jobs – between 65% and 70% – and precarious; in fact, it is one of the region’s countries with the largest index of informal labour.[3]

Peru is characterised by having a significant history of migration from the countryside to the city through different periods of the 20th Century (Dobyns and Vázquez, 1963; Martínez, 1961, 1980, 1984; Brougère 1986, 1992; Celestino,1972; Degregori and Golte, 1973; Fuenzalida et al., 1982; Cotlear, 1984. Cited in Golte, 2012: 253). This history explains why a significant percentage of inhabitants of the main cities, such as the capital, Lima, are migrants from diverse parts of the country. Therefore, when following the outbreak of the pandemic, the decree for compulsory social immobility was established, hundreds of thousands of citizens who had lost their jobs in cities, were migrants who had settled there beforehand. After having noticed that the lockdown would be longer than initially presumed, many of these people decided to undertake the journey to return to their places of origin, the majority if which are situated in rural areas across the different regions of Peru.

Given necessity and the lack of a clear government strategy to guarantee them a minimum income, a section of this population opted to undertake the return by foot, as a form of survival strategy. Media coverage during the month of April called this group of citizens “los caminantes” (the walkers) and referred to the return as “el éxodo del hambre” (the exodus of hunger). However, this study reveals that the return migrants had different migratory trajectories when the pandemic started: not all returned in the same conditions. In some cases, we see that the returnees had very precarious jobs; in other cases, they had achieved relative labour stability, but had seen themselves affected by measures such as the suspension of employment just one month into the start of the lockdown. Furthermore, there were those who had saving of between 2 thousand and 3 thousand soles, who, having evaluated their situation as a scenario of high uncertainty, chose to invest in paying for their journeys to return to their places of origin.[4]

As research has shown, migratory processes do not respond to only one type of life strategy (Zoommers, 1998; De Janvry y Sadoulet, 2000). In this sense, to assume that, in a general way, those who decide to return do so in a definitive way or that those who took up the return journey had settled permanently in their chosen cities, does not reflect the reality. Therefore, to adequately analyse the process of return to rural areas generated by the pandemic, we must first recognise the distinction between permanent and seasonal migration. In the latter, there is a variety of migration types, such as the so-called pendular migration, which generally respond to mobilisation in the territory to access temporary employment in recurring seasons. For example, the harvest of certain agro-exporting products at the coast, which attracts migrants from Andean areas; or the ‘altoandinas’ (high Andes) area migrations, which occur after the harvest, towards the ‘ceja de selva’ (forest area at the foot of the Andes) to work in cocoa, coffee, and coca leaf harvest and then return to the community of origin for the harvest period.

These established territorial flows are important in understanding the dynamics of return in the context of the pandemic (Burneo and Castro, 2020; Mesclier, 2020; Salas 2020). Importantly, the lockdown started in the month of March, when many seasonal migrants where away from their places of origin, while another group were residing permanently in cities. Therefore, as is discussed throughout the study, not all returns were conceived as a definitive project. One important group, young people especially, consider their return to their places of origin to be a temporal measure – likely to last for a few months or a year -, until the pandemic is under control.

This diversity of situations was not recognised by the government nor portrayed in national media communications. Generally, reports and news outlets showed only one face of the migrants: that of the “caminantes” who, supposedly, returned in a type of reversed exodus from the city to the countryside. Six months after the mass returns, the reality shows different nuances of the experiences among return migrants. There is a fundamental need to understand the dynamics of migrants’ return, as well as their future projects and expectations, also differentiated by gender, so that government actions can incorporate return migration into their public agenda, taking into account the complex scenarios that underpin it. Beyond the specific measures – such as the supreme decrees – to manage the return (transfers, shelters, and quarantines) up until now, the phenomenon of return migration has not been addressed as a topic for public policy. No State agenda currently exists based on first-hand information about the situation of returnees and the regions that receive them.

It is therefore urgent to know about the process of return migration for the elaboration of policy oriented to planning around the issues that arise from these displacements. According to what authorities interviewed in the study pointed out – local governments – are not trained in resolving these issues and lack efficient coordination from their respective regional governments and with the central government to deliver what is needed. An adequate multi-sectorial and multi-level policy to address the situation of return migrants and their communities demands answers to multiple questions. For example: who are the return migrants? What are their migratory trajectories? How have local governments responded to this phenomenon? What strategies have organisations, such as the ‘rondas campesinas’, and rural communities carried out? What adaptation strategies have returnees rolled out? Additionally, we must ask: how was the process of reinsertion into rural places carried out? What is the situation and what are the vulnerabilities of returnee women in particular? What are returnees’ plans and projects in the short, medium, and long term? And what tensions or problems are being generated as a result of this phenomenon in areas of reception?

With the aim of contributing to these discussions, this study analyses the dynamics of return migrations to Alto Piura in the context of the pandemic. The study was carried out between the months of July and August of this year, with intensive fieldwork over two weeks in different districts and rural areas of the provinces of Morropón, Huancabamba, and Ayabaca.[5] During the study, 71 interviews were held with returnee men and women, as well as with 13 local authorities and organisation representatives.[6] This has been unique and difficult fieldwork, which imposed many challenges on the team. A strict biosecurity protocol was implemented to protect our interviewees, and our own team (see Annex).

The document is organised in six chapters. The first chapter consists of a brief historical revision and a contextualisation of migration in Peru and, in particular, of the flows of return migration to Alto Piura in the context of the pandemic. The second chapter studies the migratory dynamics of the provinces of Morropón, Ayabaca, and Huancabamba, from the testimonials collected during the fieldwork. The third chapter, a descriptive section, presents a characterisation of the people who returned, with data about the places from which they started the return process and their socioeconomic conditions prior to lockdown. The fourth chapter analyses the return process, including the criteria which defined the decision to return, the different moments of the lockdown and the routes travelled to get to their places of origin. The fifth chapter analyses the process of reinsertion in their localities and communities and includes the initial actions of institutions and local and communal organisations in facing their return; additionally, it examines the current socioeconomic condition of the returnees. Finally, the sixth chapter picks up on the perceptions of return migration of local authorities and leaders, as well as the expectations and projects of return migrants in the short and medium term, and the perceptions they have about the situation they are going through.


We would like to thank the economist Christian Flores, member of the CIPCA, who accompanied us throughout the fieldwork; without his important work this study would have presented a much larger challenge. We also thank Víctor Velásquez Vílchez, “Vitucho”, for ensuring we would arrive safely to the planned location and for, through his anecdotes, making us laugh even in the difficult moments of fieldwork. Finally, our sincere gratitude to the local authorities and leaders who facilitated the compilation of information and, especially, to the returnees who received us in the porches of their homes.


a.     General approach

This study aimed to understand the phenomenon of return migration and to gather its nuances and particularities, from the voices of the very actors. The study proposes to describe the situation of returnees, identify trajectory types and explore the different types of reception – and any potential tensions – as well as understand the reasons for return and future expectations.

Given the particular characteristics of the context we are currently facing, this is also an exploratory study, not only because of the newness of the phenomenon, which continues to develop, but also given the complexity of carrying out fieldwork during the pandemic. This demanded the implementation of a series of extraordinary measures and a strict biosecurity protocol, but only allowed the application of a limited range of research techniques. For example, it was impossible to carry out focus groups and participative workshops. Interviews in closed spaces over 60 minutes were also prohibited; interviews were always carried out with the necessary social distance, following biosecurity protocols, and in the open air. However, while these conditions prevented the deployment of techniques which we would have wished to use in an ideal context, they also demanded that we be more systematic in the elaboration and application of our research instruments – adjusting guidelines and practicing them beforehand – and more attentive to the recording of information – not least because each interview was worth a particular effort.

This has thus been a huge professional and emotional challenge for the fieldwork team, who were also in quarantine for the two weeks prior to going into the field and subjected to tests before starting the trip and after concluding fieldwork. This team included Víctor Velásquez Vílchez, the team chauffer and member of the CIPCA for many years, whose presence allowed the team to adhere to all the conditions previously established which, in turn, guaranteed the security of the team and interviewees.

The institutional presence and the years of work conducted by CIPCA in diverse rural areas in the provinces of Morropón, Huancabamba, and Ayabaca were fundamental to the successful conduct of fieldwork. The confidence authorities and leaders had in the institution allowed them to open their doors to our work. Given the qualitative nature of the study, we did not seek statistical representation by province, but rather a depth of testimonies and a diversity of cases and histories of return migrants that would allow us to describe their trajectories and identify potential trends. The localities and homesteads where the fieldwork was carried out were selected based on three criteria: i) previous conversations with authorities who confirmed the arrival of hundreds of returnees to their localities; ii) a review of the registers of returnees recorded by health centres in the districts and populated centres, who kindly shared these with the CIPCA team several weeks prior to our fieldwork. These registers facilitated the identification of homesteads and districts with a significant presence of returnees of different ages; and iii) contact and prior agreement with authorities and/or social leaders to entry into the areas

Province District Locality/Populated Centre



San Juan de Bigote San Juan de Bigote
Santa Catalina de Mossa El algodonal
Salitral Malacasí




San Miguel de El Faique


Capital distrital

La Capilla

El Higuerón







Capital distrital


Paimas El Algodonal

Table 1. Areas of data collection. Own creation.

a.     Aims

The primary aim of the study is to describe and analyse the dynamics around return migration in Alto Piura. The interest in this field reflects CIPCA’s long history of prior engagement in the area, which has involved a commitment to the population and the local social organisations. In order to achieve the proposed aim, four specific objectives have been established.

O1: Describe and create a characterisation of the return migrants in the context of Alto Piura, in the provinces of Morropón, Huancabamba, and Ayabaca.

From this objective, the following questions are asked: Who are the return migrants (age, gender, productive activities, incomes)? What are their migratory trajectories? What is their place of origin and what routes have they used to return? In what economic and social conditions are these migrants returning? What factors motivate their decision?

O2: Analyse the response of local institutions and organisations in dealing with return migration and migrants.

To develop this objective, the following questions are asked: What has been the response of local governments when facing return migration? What strategies have rural organisations, such as rondas campesinas etc., and communities carried out? Have reception strategies been differentiated by gender and age? What types of problems have started to arise from return migration in the locality?

O3: Analyse reinsertion and readaptation strategies of return migrants in their local territories, with an emphasis on the situation of returning women.

The third objective seeks to respond to the following questions: What adaptive strategies have the returnees deployed? What has been their reinsertion process into rural places? What social dynamics have emerged from this process? What particular situations did women face in returning and what is their current situation? What do returnees currently do in their places of reception?

O4: Analyse the perceptions of/from the return migrants and the narratives that emerge about the return process, differentiating the perceptions by gender.

The fourth specific objective points to the following questions: What narratives, perceptions, and tensions have emerged from returnees towards communities of reception, and what have been those of the communities of reception towards the returnees? What expectations do returnees have about their return to their places of origin? How do they feel about returning to “their land”? What are the returnees’ plans and projects in the short, medium, and long term? What future possibilities do women returnees see?

The actors

Data collection was centred around three types of actors:

Return migrants. Men and women who have returned to their places of origin in the provinces of Ayabaca, Morropón, and Huancabamba.

Local authorities: Mayors of district municipalities and populated centres, political authorities (governor or other positions of power) and presidents of district level farmer communities that have received return migrants.

Leaders of social organisations: Members of social organisations present in the territories, like rondas campesinas, neighbourhood federations, or others, involved in the management of receiving return migrant.

In addition to this, the study has a particular interest in addressing the situation of female return migrants and identifying points of vulnerability. For this, we sought equality in the application of data collection techniques: we were able to interview a total of 37 women and 36 men returnees (see Table 2). In the case of local authorities and leaders, 8 men and 5 women were interviewed.

Place / Detail Semi-structured interviews Trajectories Closed interviews Total
Migrants Authorities Migrants Migrants
Men Women M/W Men Women Men Women
Huancabamba 4 3 5 2 1 8 9 32
Morropón 2 4 5 1 0 6 6 24
Ayabaca 2 4 3 1 3 8 7 28
Total 8 11 13 4 4 21 23 84
            40   44  

Table 2: Sample distribution by data collection technique, type of actor, gender, and scope of study. Own creation.

  1. Data collection techniques

The study design used a combination of mixed methods for data collection which allowed for in-depth collection of information, as well as having a broader idea of the general characteristics of return migrants and their territories. These techniques were: i) semi-structured interviews, ii) migratory life trajectories, and iii) closed interviews.

Closed interviews These were carried out with return migrants and aimed to acquire precise information about their profiles, their socioeconomic characteristics prior to the lockdown and current moment, and the trajectories used throughout their return journey. This technique used a closed question guide about specific topics. For this, a questionnaire for data collection was elaborated in a survey format.

Semi-structured interviews. These were applied to the three types of actors– returnee men and women, local authorities and leaders -, given their knowledge and/or experience on the topic, the local contexts and surroundings. This technique allowed us to obtain in-depth and detailed information about the territorial dynamics, the return process itself, and the experiences and perceptions of returnees.

Life trajectories (with an emphasis on migration). This technique aimed to recognise the dynamics of migration throughout the lives of the returnees and their narratives with respect to their migratory experiences. Although this kind of technique tends to centre itself on the timeline of the actors’ lives, for this particular study its application was centred around what has been named migratory trajectories. Through this technique, life stories of returnees were collected, whose transversal axis is that of migratory experiences, including their return migration in the context of the pandemic.



  1. Migrations: A long story of territorial mobility

Peru has a long history of migrations and mobilities in the territory. There is extensive literature from different approaches on the theme since the 1950s. The migratory process which has received the most attention in social sciences is that of Andean migrants to the coast, particularly to the city of Lima. And, as Jurgën Golte points out in his rigorous evaluation of migration in Peru, “although there was also a mass migration towards the Eastern slopes of the Andes, it did not arouse the same interest as did the conversion of cities by migrants[1]” (2012: 253). By the start of the 1980s and with the Agrarian Reform underway, the anthropologist Matos Mar wrote his classic book Desborde Popular y Crisis del Estado. El nuevo rostro del Perú en la década de 1980 (Popular Overflow and State Crisis. The new face of Peru in the decade of the 1980s) (1984), in which he portrays the new face of Lima city and society, transformed by migrants, particularly Andean.

Peru in the second half of the 20th Century is composed of a highly mobile society (Golte and Adams 1987, Golte 1999, cited in Golte 2012: 254). The motives for migratory movements are varied, but they share the common element of a search for a better personal or family situation, which has been conceived as such in notions or ideas of development, understood as “progress” or “modernity” (2012: 254). In this way, Matos Mar’s Popular Overflow and State Crisis (1984), referred to the search for a modernity constructed from below and for the people, from a set of strategies – social capital, parental networks, informality -, which configure contemporary Lima and who mobilise themselves in demographic and social terms. These migratory movements stem from personal and family life decisions and strategies, which in many cases imply a change of permanent residence. This does not mean, however, that family or community ties are broken, but rather that they are extended over territories. On the other hand, in 20th Century Peruvian history, there have also been migratory processes triggered by internal violence, mainly in the 1980s. These moves were a response to critical situations, which generated forced displacement in many cases (Degregori, 1996).

Although the emphasis of migratory studies in Peru has been put on movements from the countryside to the city, these are not the only ones that exist in the country. In fact, internal migration – generally pendular or seasonal – is fundamental for understanding the current dynamics of rural families, as demonstrated by the National Censuses of 2012 and 2017. These migrations imply a set of displacements between different points within the national territory, for example, between the southern area of Ayacucho and Huancavelica and the coast of Ica, during the harvest months for exportation; or in the case of the northern area, thousands of people circulate from the mountain ranges of Cajamarca and Lambayeque towards the coast during the peak seasons for recruiting labour. However, spatial flows are not related only to agricultural employment, but can also be related to fishing, mainly artisanal fishing, and diverse services, such as construction.

These processes are inscribed in a rural space, which has undergone significant changes during the last three decades. This phenomenon is not exclusive to Peru, and also occurs in different Latin American countries (Giarraca, 2001). To address these changes analytically, a series of authors proposed a focus on the new rurality, which shifted understandings of rural territories as not only agricultural, but also multifunctional (De Grammont and Martínez, 2009). Similarly, a more dynamic perspective was introduced in order to understand the diverse strategies deployed by rural families yet articulated within urban dynamics and spaces. In the article Cambios en la ruralidad y en las estrategias de vida en el mundo rural (Changes in rurality and in life strategies in the rural world) for SEPIA XV (2014), Alejandro Diez points out that the focus of the new rurality implies analysin “the multiple interrelations between urban and rural spaces which supposes and explains a series of transformations of the rural space and modifies with it our perspectives of the analysis[2]” (2014: 5). One of the important factors in this interrelation is the circulation of people between both spaces and between multiple intermediate points (farmers, miners, fishers, craftsmen, agricultural entrepreneurs, and people employed in services).

The most recent data, from the years 2000 and subsequently, highlight that internal migration is characterised by the movement of citizens from rural Andean spaces to coastal cities, among which along-side Lima, in the south Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua, and Tacna, are important and in the north Chimbote, Trujillo, Chiclayo, and Piura stand out. As such, between the years 2012 and 2017, approximately 3 million people were mobilised, while for the year 2015 there were 7 million internal migrants throughout all of Peru. The 2017 National Census informs that over a period of 5 years, 11.4% of the national population migrated, with the coastal districts being those whose population increased the most. By contrast, 88.7% of mountainous districts have lost population due to migration.

Focusing on the context of the study, Piura stands out as the third region in the country with the greatest number of people, after Cajamarca and Puno, who migrate to other regions. At a departmental level, its rate of internal migration is of 2.5% which is manifested in two ways: i) seasonal, when for example, the harvest period in agro-export countries and large farms begins; and ii) permanent, when migrants stay in a city to live there definitively. Of the eight provinces, Talara, Paita, Sechura, Sullana, and Piura are those which attract a larger quantity of migrants, while Ayabaca, Morropón, and Huancabamba are the provinces from which most migrants leave; thus, internal migration in Piura is characterised by the mobility from mountain to coast. In Piura, rural women (51.9%) tend to emigrate more than men (48.1%). On the other hand, migrants tend to dedicate themselves to different productive activities, those which stand out include fishing and aquaculture, as well a work in services such as accommodation and restaurants, commerce, transport and construction, among others (International Organization for Migration, 2015).

The most recent studies on migratory processes have been centred around the relation between rural spaces and rural youth. These conclude that a large quantity of young people who decide to migrate from rural contexts to urban ones do so more from necessity than because of a desire to leave their places of origin. They decide to migrate in search of better educational conditions (C. Urrutia and Trivelli 2019) and young rural women are those who migrate most (Boyd 2019). Migration becomes a strategy to improve economic and educational levels, and to acquire territorial capital[3], which allows rural young people to develop long-term life projects (A. Urritia and Trivelli 2018). In this sense, migration continues to play a central role in the lives of the rural youth. In these processes, intermediate cities that have better transport infrastructure, greater economic dynamics and more varied educational offers, have taken on a fundamental role because, by not being forced to migrate to Lima, they have allowed young people not to become fully separated from their places of origin. In addition, intermediate cities are considered less hostile spaces, in which less discrimination is suffered and where experience is gained that allows them to value their places of origin (H. Asensio 2019, A. Urrutia and Trivelli 2018). Thus, recent rural migration is a process marked by the mobilisation of young people, unlike the migratory processes of previous decades.

The trends described above, however, respond to a scenario prior to that unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic in Peru in March 2020. The lockdown measures adopted by the government led to thousands of migrants, settled in various cities across the country, to seek to return to their places of origin. Towards the end of April 2020, the government registered 167 thousand requests from Peruvians seeking to return to their places of origin, Piura being the destination with the highest number of people registered (22,000). In the following months, return migrations continued and not everyone was recorded in official registers. Some authors raised preliminary ideas, highlighting that this “return” should not be understood as unidirectional and definitive in all cases (Burneo, M. and Castro, A. 2020), but rather be seen as a process of mobility rather than migration (Salas 2020). The argument was that not all the returnees were permanently settled in the cities anyway; while some were former migrants who were helpless when they lost their jobs during the “compulsory social isolation” imposed by the Peruvian government, others were people who were there for study reasons (for two or three years) or temporarily for seasonal employment reasons. The next section outlines the scenario in which the returnees decided to return and the context of the migrations in the provinces of Morropón, Huancabamba, and Ayabaca is presented.


2.     The context of return migrations and returnees to Alto Piura (Morropón, Huancabamba, and Ayabaca)

On March 15th, 2020, President Vizcarra’s government decreed a lockdown at the national level. This measure of “compulsory social isolation” was announced together with a State of Emergency that imposed the total closure of borders and transportation. The lockdown imposed a halt to productive activities and the closure of all commercial establishments. In this sense, the rights to freedom of assembly and mobility and free movement in the national territory were restricted. In this context, hundreds of thousands of Peruvians were left without jobs and without income.[4] Compared to the same trimester of 2019, during the second trimester of 2020 the population in employment has fallen by 39.6%. As Jaramillo points out, the bulk of this fall is concentrated in urban areas, where employment fell by 49%, and in the case of the self-employed, it had fallen by 42% by the end of July (in mid-June this fall reached 64%). In the informal sector, employment fell 65% at the end of June and 45% at the end of July. The most vulnerable were young people under 25 years of age, since 53% of them lost their jobs from the beginning of the lockdown until the end of July. In the country’s cities, employment fell by 42% in the second trimester of the year (Ñopo and Pajita, 2020). The situation is even worse for women, who have been the most affected: in the second trimester of 2020, there was a 45% drop in the female EAP compared to the first trimester of the year, compared to a lower rate of 35% in th male’s. Given the situation, Trivelli concludes that “(…) the drop in employment (comparing the mobile year 2019/2020 with the similar period 2018/2019) is 1.5 times higher for women (9.2% vs 6.1%). And these figures will continue to worsen”.[5]

This situation, especially for the informal sector, implied that thousands of migrant families – permanent or temporary – lost their income. Faced with the difficult socioeconomic situation, added to the other factors that we present throughout the report, these people decided to start the process of returning to their places of origin.

When the return process escalated, the central government implemented a series of emergency measures and decrees, but these were insufficient to tackle such a broad and complex problem. Additionally, the current government focused on those called “the walkers” and on migration from Lima and other departmental capitals on the country’s coast. However, the exit points were diverse, as are the situations and realities of the returnees. Fieldwork has made it possible to account for a series of different trajectories: on the one hand, only a small group benefited from the measure ordered by the central government and executed by the regional governments; and on the other hand, the majority returned to their places of origin using clandestine transport – trucks warehouses, custers, vans and private cars -, which they organised using their own economic resources and social capital, such as networks of relatives or acquaintances “of the people” that provided transportation by sections and legs of the journey until reaching the final destination. Likewise, many returned from peri-urban provinces and areas in different parts of the country.

Rules approved by the Peruvian State referring to returnees [6]

Decreto de Urgencia 043-2020, dictates extraordinary measures with the aim of acquiring goods and services necessary for the quarantine accommodation and food for people who are obliged to be displaced in the country, as a result of the declaration of a State of Emergency given COVID-19.

Resolución Ministerial 204-2020-MINSA, approves the Technical Guide for the exceptional transfer of people who are outside their ordinary residence as a result of the application of the social immobilisation provisions, modified by the Resolución Ministerial 337-2020-MINSA.

Resolución Ministerial 097-2020-PCM, approves the Guidelines for the transfer and quarantine of people who are outside their habitual residence, as a result of the measures of social isolation due to the National Emergency for COVID-19.

Resolución de Secretaría de Descentralización 008-2020-PCM/SD, updates the Guidelines for the transfer and quarantine of people who are away from their habitual residence, as a result of the social isolation measures for the National Emergency given COVID-19 approved by Resolución Ministerial 097-2020-PCM.

Access the full report here: final report

Researcher interviewing Mayor of Poblados. © Christian Flores, CIPCA, 2020.