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Human displacement soared as borders slammed shut – UN report

3 December 20210 comments

The world has seen a dramatic increase in internal displacement due to disasters, conflict, persecution and violence at a time when global mobility has been almost completely halted because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

And COVID-related border closures and mobility restrictions have been the greatest disruptors of migration in history.

The number of global air passengers dropped 60 per cent in 2020 to 1.8 billion – down from 4.5 billion in 2019. But at the same time internal displacement due to disaster, conflict, persecution and violence rose to 40.5 million – up from 31.5 million in 2019.

These are the main findings of the International Organisation for Migration’s ‘World Migration Report 2022’.

Report editor Marie McAuliffe says the findings are “unprecedented paradox”.

“While billions of people have been effectively grounded by COVID-19, tens of millions of others have been displaced within their own countries,” Ms McAuliffe said.  

“This report is unlike any other edition of the World Migration Report. So much has happened in migration and mobility over these last two years and in this report we bring together key data, research and analysis to show how long-term trends have been altered by COVID-19 and how migrants worldwide have been affected,” she said.

The report says the number of international migrants has grown from 84 million globally in 1970 to 281 million in 2020, although when global population growth is factored in, the proportion of international migrants has only inched up from 2.3 per cent to 3.6 per cent of the world’s population.

It says the total number of migrants rose by just nine million in 2020 from 272 million in 2019. Displaced person numbers have risen from 84.8 million in 2019 to 89.4 million in 2020. 

“Most people globally (96.4 per cent) reside in the country in which they were born. The number of international migrants for 2020 was lower, by around 2 million, than it otherwise would have been due to COVID-19,” it says.

But COVID-19-related mobility restrictions have been the greatest disruptor of migration in history, the report found.

It noted that COVID-19 has been the most severe pandemic in a century, with its combination of high transmission, virus strains and the severity of the disease forcing policymakers into drastic measures.

“While the main focus has necessarily been on responding to the global health crisis (e.g. virus testing, disease treatment, and vaccination development and programming), part of the response has involved drastic changes to freedom of movement of people all around the world, which in turn has massively impacted human mobility globally,’ the report says.

“Governments around the world implemented various measures to limit the spread of the virus, and a range of restrictions were introduced from early 2020, evolving over time,” it says.

The report used new data sources to track policy responses globally, such as Oxford University’s Covid19 Government Response Tracker, which has recorded a wide range of government responses globally, such as “stay-at-home” measures, workplace closures, school closures, restrictions on gatherings, restrictions on internal movements within a country, and international travel control measures.

Overall, COVID-19 travel restriction measures – both internal and international – were quickly put in place by the vast majority of countries around the world, with the peak occurring in late March to early April 2020.

“Some countries stopped all entry of foreign citizens, some banned citizens of specific countries, while even further, some countries completely closed borders to stop departure and entry of all people, including their own citizens,” the report says.

“Quarantine measures were also introduced by some countries, requiring passengers entering a country to be quarantined in isolation for a minimum period (typically 10 to 14 days) immediately upon arrival,” it says.

The World Migration Report also reports an overall increase in remittances in recent decades, from $US126 billion in 2000 to $702 billion in 2020.

And despite predictions of a large decline in international remittances due to COVID-19, 2020 saw only a slight drop of just 2.4 per cent from the 2019 global total.

International remittances are usually financial transfers made by migrants directly to families or communities in their countries of origin.

“In 2020, India, China, Mexico, the Philippines and Egypt were -in descending order – the top five remittance recipient countries, although India and China were well above the rest, with total inward remittances exceeding $83 billion and $59 billion, respectively,” the report says.

“High-income countries are almost always the main source of remittances. For decades, the United States has consistently been the top remittance-sending country, with a total outflow of $68 billion in 2020, followed by the United Arab Emirates ($43.2 billion), Saudi Arabia ($34.6 billion), Switzerland ($27.96 billion), and Germany ($22 billion).”

Over the term the report covered Europe and Asia each hosted around 87 and 86 million international migrants respectively – comprising 61 per cent of the global international migrant stock.

These regions were followed by North America, with almost 59 million international migrants in 2020 or 21 per cent of the global migrant stock, Africa at 9 per cent, Latin America and the Caribbean at 5 per cent, and Oceania at 3 per cent.

When compared with the size of the population in each region, shares of international migrants in 2020 were highest in Oceania, North America and Europe, where international migrants represented, respectively, 22 per cent, 16 per cent and 12 per cent of the total population. In comparison, the share of international migrants is relatively small in Asia and Africa (1.8% and 1.9%, respectively) and Latin America and the Caribbean (2.3%).

However, Asia experienced the most remarkable growth from 2000 to 2020, at 74 per cent (around 37 million people in absolute terms).

Europe experienced the second-largest growth during this period, with an increase of 30 million international migrants, followed by an increase of 18 million international migrants in North America and 10 million in Africa.

Read the full report here:

And watch a video rom IOM here: