While the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the globe into an unprecedent state of immobility, a gradual reopening is beginning. The deep economic recession that has followed may spark new forms of migration and changing routes, even as it constrains other movements. What are some of the first indications as to the drivers of migration in a post-pandemic world? And is Europe geared up for dealing with a new migration wave?
For World Refugee day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released its 2019 report on forced displacement. Its numbers are staggering. There are 79.5 million forcibly displaced people around the world, 45.7 million of whom are internally displaced people (IDPs), 20.4 million are refugees and 4.2 million are asylum seekers.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of forcibly displaced people has gained an additional urgency for three reasons.
Migration entered the G20 agenda only at the Antalya summit in 2015. At that time, the presence of several million Syrian refugees in Turkey and their onward migration to Central and Northern Europe were viewed as a threat to political stability in Europe and beyond. When the urgency of the 2015 situation was gone, the language on migration in subsequent G20 Summit Communiqués became weaker and weaker.
US President Donald Trump’s migration discourse has been put to a tough test, that of a global pandemic. But the “build-a-wall” rhetoric has emerged more resilient than one would have imagined. Even while the United States face a healthcare emergency, an economic crisis, and protests are sweeping across the country, Trump has managed to not put aside his focus on curbing migration; quite the contrary.
In West Africa, characterized by movements both within and out of the region, refugees and migrants on the move are among those particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and related mobility restrictions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has significant impacts on African economies and the mobility of African people. In a continent where internal migration represents the major part of migration flows from the continent (around 80% of immigrant stock), border closures, travel restrictions or lockdown measures taken to halt the spread of the virus had significantly impacted people movements both within countries and outside. They have also affected remittances.
Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe, it was clear that asylum seekers and migrants in an irregular situation would be disproportionately affected. International organisations raised the alarm that migrants’ precarious living conditions, especially in camps, reception centres, and those in detention, amplified the risks of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Irregular sea arrivals to Italy are up this year. By September 13th, Italy had recorded at least 21,011 migrant arrivals at its shores: higher than for the whole 2018 (20,629), and almost twice as high as last year. Wasn’t the COVID-19 pandemic supposed to deter irregular migration, as well as the regular kind? Think again. Along the Central Mediterranean route, two forces appear to have been at work, acting as an incentive for migrants to depart from both Libya and Tunisia. And the pandemic has had an effect, but not the one many expected.
Six months after the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Europe, migration is back on everyone’s agendas. But did it ever go away? As the European Commission prepares to present its new pact on migration and asylum over the next few weeks, this Dossier reflects on what can be learnt so far from the impact of the worst global health crisis in a century on migration flows and policies.