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First comprehensive global analysis of COVID-19 travel restrictions, border closures weighs future impacts on mobility

The pandemic has gravely impacted global mobility, stranding millions of people, migrant labourers, family members or international students overseas. Photo: IOM

While the overall picture of cross-border human mobility in 2020 is of movement dramatically curtailed as a result of measures imposed by governments since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report shows a varying reality over time and by region, with particularly harsh effects for refugees and other migrants who move out of necessity.

The report resulting from the collaboration by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) marks the first comprehensive analysis of the travel measures and border closures that governments around the world took during 2020—which at their peak in mid-December exceeded 111,000 in place at one time. The report, COVID-19 and the State of Global Mobility in 2020, results from MPI analysis of IOM’s COVID-19 Mobility Impacts platform, which collects all of the actions taken by countries and subnational authorities to close international borders, restrict travel between particular locations, impose quarantines and health requirements for travellers, and establish “travel bubbles” and other arrangements.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has gravely impacted global mobility, stranding millions of people, migrant labourers, family members or international students overseas,” said IOM Director General António Vitorino. “This report draws out these dynamics over the course of 2020 and highlights the ways governments are attempting to restart mobility in 2021 and beyond.”

Cross-border mobility in 2020 can be divided into three phases, the report’s authors find:

  • January to May: Mobility lockdowns. In this first phase, countries introduced a raft of national lockdowns, other travel restrictions and health requirements to respond to the fast-evolving public health crisis. The scale of border closures was unprecedented, many occurring with limited coordination. By the end of March, governments had issued or extended 43,300 travel measures. Movements of all kinds were dramatically curtailed. For instance, the numbers of passengers on international flights in April and May were down by 92 per cent relative to the same months in 2019.
  • June to September: Phased reopening. This period brought the staggered reopening of some points of entry, especially of airports. Travel bans were increasingly replaced by health measures, including certificates of pre-departure COVID-19 tests, quarantine measures or health declarations. During this phase, different strategies across the world began to crystallize. This was obvious most clearly in the divergent approaches of island countries: as New Zealand and Australia pursued virus-elimination strategies and maintained border closures, others such as the Caribbean islands opened up to tourism.
  • October to December: Responses to new outbreaks and virus mutations. The remainder of the year was a mixed picture, as countries sought to replace travel restrictions with health requirements, while battling a second (and in some cases, third) wave of infections and grappling with the emergence of new variants of the virus. Some countries, including Chile, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates, opened even to tourists. Health certificates became the most common health-related travel measure.
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Three shifts in cross-border mobility were particularly visible, and could persist in the years ahead:

  • Widening gulf between movers and non-movers. The pandemic has deeply curtailed the mobility prospects of some groups who move out of necessity, including refugees and migrant workers, while having little effect on business travellers and others with the resources and opportunity to cross borders for work, family or tourism. This gulf is especially likely to persist if travel begins to favour those who have been vaccinated or tested, or if reliance on digital health records makes a person’s ability to travel dependent on digital access and literacy.
  • Greater socioeconomic vulnerabilities. The pandemic has amplified the socioeconomic vulnerability of those who depend on mobility for survival. Job losses have hit migrant workers hard, especially since in many countries they often work in sectors particularly disrupted by pandemic response measures or with a higher infection risk.
  • Amplified relationships of dependence and exploitation. Restrictions on movement have increased the dependence of many migrants on intermediaries and facilitators, from employment agencies to smugglers. Even as fast-changing travel restrictions have increased the demand for smuggling services among people desperate to flee violence, natural disasters and economic deprivation, or to be able to return home, they have pushed smugglers to use more dangerous routes and raise their prices – exposing migrants and refugees to an increased risk of exploitation and trafficking.
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The report examines the future of mobility as countries begin to emerge slowly from the pandemic, finding no easy or one-size-fits-all answers.

“More than a year on from the onset of the pandemic, it remains an open question what role border closures, travel restrictions and health-related travel requirements should play in a pandemic management response,” said MPI President Andrew Selee. “As new strains of the virus emerge, governments face the challenge of developing risk mitigation strategies that move beyond the blunt tools of border closures and travel bans. They also need to avoid unilateral responses and work with other governments and international organizations to develop well-planned border health policies.”

Read the report here

About the International Organization for Migration 

Established in 1951, IOM is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration and works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners. With 173 member states, a further nine states holding observer status and offices in over 100 countries, IOM is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. It does so by providing services and advice to governments and migrants. Learn more about IOM: www.iom.int. 

About the Migration Policy Institute 

A nonpartisan organization, MPI seeks to improve immigration and integration policies through authoritative research and analysis, opportunities for learning and dialogue, and the development of new ideas to address complex policy questions. Founded in 2001, MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. It aims to meet the rising demand for pragmatic and thoughtful responses to the challenges and opportunities that large-scale migration, whether voluntary or forced, presents to communities and institutions in an increasingly integrated world. For more on MPI, visit www.migrationpolicy.org.  

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Free movement of people a top priority, say West African nations

Aligned migration policies must be effectively applied by border officials to ease free movement while combatting trafficking in persons, says the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Photo: Fredrick Ejiga/IOM

Abuja – Free movement of people and goods, and fighting human trafficking should be top policy priorities, members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed at talks convened with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Network for Migration and the African Union.

Three days of consultations in Abuja this week offered the first chance for ECOWAS members to collectively assess progress in implementing the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) objectives and to decide key recommendations to be put to next year’s International Migration Review Forum.

Integrated migration governance should be a key goal and Ambrose Dery, Minister of Interior for Ghana, the Chair of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Governments, said it was essential African nations addressed trafficking in persons and its devastating consequences on migrants.

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“Vile stories on international media concerning migrant slavery, as well as mistreatment of young African domestic helps in some Gulf States, call for a reflection on appropriate actions to be taken with a view to finding a lasting solution to this persistent problem that leads to the loss of young Africans, without whom the continent cannot build a prosperous and peaceful future,” Dery said. “In Ghana, the contribution of migrants has played a great role in shaping our national development.”

Governments must address the root causes of trafficking and ensure the free movement of people in a safe, orderly and dignified manner. ECOWAS representatives emphasized the need to join forces and align approaches to prevent and counter smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons to promote rights-based management of migration.

The meeting, which ended Thursday, also heard that policies must be effectively applied by border officials to ease free movement while combatting trafficking in persons.

Aissata Kane, IOM’s Senior Regional Adviser for Sub Saharan Africa, said the Global Compact for Migration was a landmark, multilateral document. “It aims to catalyze and boost combined support and assistance for addressing legal and humanitarian challenges of migration and foster its positive social, cultural and economic dividends within and outside the ECOWAS region.”

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IOM has been working with all stakeholders at intergovernmental and national levels, as well as within the UN Network for Migration, to promote safe, orderly and dignified free movement of people and economic exchange among ECOWAS Member States.

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IOM steps up help on Yemen’s West Coast as clashes heighten desperation

A displaced woman and her children in a makeshift shelter on the west coast of Yemen. Photo: IOM Yemen/Rami Ibrahim

Al Makha – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has ramped up its humanitarian assistance on Yemen’s west coast where the needs of communities displaced by years of conflict are growing amid ongoing violence.

The Organization is also urging more help from donors and aid partners.

IOM’s response is focusing primarily on the two governorates of Ta’iz and Hodeidah, where active frontlines continue to cause instability and force families to flee.

Since 2017, when mass displacement in the area began, tens of thousands of people have struggled to survive in protracted displacement in hard-to-reach areas where public services and humanitarian assistance are extremely limited.

“We were displaced here four years ago and we still feel unsafe from the bullets flying overhead,” said Aziza, a mother displaced in Khoka district. “There are seven families living in my small shelter. We can’t afford medical care or school costs. We need peace and we need to go back home.”

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More than 17,000 displaced families are living in more than 140 displacement sites in the area, while ongoing fighting continues to provoke new waves of displacement. Most recently, clashes in eastern Al Tuhayta district have displaced more than 200 families westward to safer areas.

“As the needs of displaced communities on the west coast continue to mount, IOM is ramping up its response to thousands of people in need of urgent services, especially health care, water and sanitation, and shelter,” said Christa Rottensteiner, IOM Yemen Chief of Mission.

“We urge donors and other partners to commit more significant investments to ease the levels of desperation facing too many people on the west coast.”

As one of the few international humanitarian organizations operating in the area, IOM is implementing lifesaving interventions in 13 displacement sites, providing shelter, clean water, latrines, cash and essential relief items to thousands of families in need.

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The Organization is expanding the availability of health care to affected populations by enhancing primary and child and maternal health care, addressing malnutrition, promoting mental health and psychosocial support, providing incentives to health-care workers and deploying mobile medical teams in underserved areas.

IOM is working with donors and partners to support communities on the west coast by coordinating services in displacement sites, and promoting longer-term recovery with transitional shelters, rehabilitating water networks, increasing COVID-19 testing and constructing flood risk reduction walls.

The Government of Canada has been instrumental in IOM’s scale-up of the lifesaving humanitarian response to the most immediate needs of communities – namely water, health and shelter improvement.

IOM’s Global Crisis Response Platform provides an overview of IOM’s plans and funding requirements to respond to the evolving needs and aspirations of those impacted by, or at risk of, crisis and displacement in 2021 and beyond. The Platform is regularly updated as crises evolve, and new situations emerge.

READ  Hundreds of thousands of people leave Britain due to pandemic

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Djibouti rolls out COVID-19 vaccinations for migrants

IOM is supporting Djibouti’s Ministry of Health in its vaccination roll-out in the different regions of the country. Photo: IOM/Amanda Nero (2017)

Djibouti – Migrants in Djibouti are being vaccinated against COVID-19 for the first time, as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) works with the Government to support the national immunization effort.

Since the start of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out globally, IOM has been advocating for the inclusion of migrants and Djibouti is one of the first countries in the region to initiate a campaign for them. Around 70 migrants have received jabs since the vaccination drive began on 12 October and it will continue till at least the end of the year.

The move is a crucial step towards protecting and safeguarding migrants across the East and Horn of Africa region, since Djibouti is one of the main transit countries for tens of thousands of migrants who attempt to leave the continent each year to find work, mainly in the Gulf countries.

More than 112,000 migrants passed through Djibouti in 2020 according to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix, despite the reduced mobility caused by the pandemic.

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The country is also a destination for thousands of stranded migrants, and those fleeing the conflict in Yemen. They often travel and live in overcrowded and makeshift settings, which disproportionately exposes them to COVID-19 and other health risks. Migrants also often have little access to COVID-19 prevention tools, such as reliable information, masks, sanitizer, clean water, and access to health services.

Migrants in Djibouti are receiving the vaccine at the Migration Response Centre (MRC) in Obock, one of several in the region where those in difficulty are assisted with shelter, food and health care, among other services. Nearly 1,000 migrants have sought and received support at the MRC in Obock, in the first half of this year.

“We’ve called on the local population, including migrants, to actively participate in the vaccination drive and reminded them that the vaccine is still the most effective way to protect yourself and those around you,” said the mayor of Obock, Abdoulmalik Mohamed Banoita.

IOM is also working to counter hesitancy and misconceptions around immunization, by conducting sensitization sessions in various languages.

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“The inclusion of migrants in the vaccine roll-out shows the Government of Djibouti’s commitment to include some of the countries’ most vulnerable people in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Stéphanie Daviot, IOM’s Chief of Mission in the country.

“We are grateful to the Government for its commitment and partnership with IOM to provide assistance of this nature to migrants and help reduce the spread and impact of this disease.”

Djibouti has had more than 13,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 170 people have died since the start of the pandemic. Earlier this month IOM, the Ministry of Health, and other technical partners, launched an accelerated vaccination campaign with the objective of vaccinating 25 per cent of Djibouti’s population of about 1 million people. This target includes vulnerable population groups such as migrants and refugees.

The hope is that with the inclusion of migrants and communities on the move in the vaccine roll-out, the number of cases and negative impact of COVID-19 will be reduced.

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IOM is supporting the Ministry of Health in its vaccination roll-out in the different regions of the country within the framework of the East and Horn of Africa COVID-19 Strategic Response and Recovery Plan for 2021 and with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the US Department of State.

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Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

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