For the second year in a row, global mobility was shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic in unprecedented ways in 2021.
Cross-border travel by people with passports and visas isn’t expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. Meanwhile, the number of those forcibly displaced due to climate disasters, conflicts, and violence – both within their countries and internationally – has continued to climb, from 82.4 million at the end of 2020 to more than 84 million by June 2021, according to the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR.
Numbers for the second half of the year are not yet available, but climate crisis-linked flooding has displaced hundreds of thousands in China, Malaysia, South Sudan, and elsewhere across the globe since the beginning of October, and the second-order effects of the pandemic are exacerbating factors – from economic stagnation to political instability – that push people to migrate.
The inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is likely contributing to the dynamic by paving the way for poorer countries to be left behind while the economies of wealthier countries with higher vaccination rates rebound more quickly.
At the end of the first full year of the global vaccination effort, about 73 percent of shots administered so far have gone into arms in upper and upper-middle income countries while less than one percent of doses have been given to people in low-income countries.
Faced with supply issues and other complications, the UN-backed initiative that was meant to ensure equitable COVID vaccine access has delivered only around 800 million out of the two billion doses it had pledged to lower and lower-middle income countries by the end of the year.
It’s perhaps no surprise then that migration routes – from the US-Mexico border to the Darién Gap between Colombia and Panama and the Mediterranean – have seen increased movement compared to last year.
The uptick is coinciding with the intensification of efforts by Western countries to limit access to asylum and the ability of those seeking safety and opportunity to reach their territory. Countries – such as Belarus – are capitalising on this desire to keep people out by leveraging migration as a political tool to exert pressure and extract concessions from their Western neighbours, while asylum seekers and migrants suffer the consequences.
Finally, the chaotic airlift that accompanied the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Taliban retook power in Kabul in August provided perhaps the most indelible images of global mobility inequality of the year – with people clinging to US military planes as they took off.
Around 113,000 Afghans were able to leave Afghanistan during the two-week evacuation. But options for countless others who fear Taliban persecution and were left behind are slim. After the withdrawal – amid donor funding freezes and sanctions – the Afghan economy has collapsed, and around half the country’s population of 39 million could face emergency levels of hunger this winter.
Thousands fleeing the fallout are crossing into neighbouring Iran every day. But restrictive policies have a domino effect, and Iran – which along with Pakistan has hosted the vast majority of Afghan refugees for decades – has deported around 360,000 since August.
Displacement and migration are consequences of the crises we report on at The New Humanitarian. And often, the governance – or mismanagement – of migration creates additional negative humanitarian and human rights consequences for those compelled to move. Stay tuned in 2022 for more coverage of these dynamics and reporting that gives more space to refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants to challenge Global North-led narratives about their lives.
(Compiled by TNH Migration Editor-at-large Eric Reidy.)
Behind each of the 21,500 people who died trying to reach the EU since 2014 are a family and friends left to grieve and grapple with the impact.
For Shima, a refugee who volunteers as an aid worker, the humanitarian system is replicating the inequalities women face in their private lives.
Over 10 years of war, millions of Syrians have been forced to flee their homes. Most remain in limbo.
Hundreds of Syrian refugees, mostly women and children, have been asked to return. The Danish government isn't alone in rolling back protections.
South American borders have become increasingly militarised amid the pandemic, and the risks for desperate Venezuelan migrants have never been higher.
Limited supplies, misinformation, and pre-existing marginalisation are threatening global efforts.
Efforts to improve conditions for migrants have gone nowhere, causing a problem for the EU as it continues to support Mediterranean returns.
Media and political narratives focusing on people moving from the Global South to the Global North are missing a big part of the picture.
Thousands of Afghans escaping spiralling violence at home are entering Turkey. But will they be able to find safe haven?
Explore the abusive and deadly effects of EU and Libyan policies in the central Mediterranean.
Asylum seekers and migrants are bearing the brunt of a confrontation between Belarus and the EU that has already cost at least 12 lives.
Including the views of refugees in efforts to reform the global refugee system is not yet the norm. It desperately needs to be.
Right now, we’re working with contributors on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to tell the stories of people enduring and responding to a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis.
We’re documenting the threats to humanitarian response in the country and providing a platform for those bearing the brunt of the invasion. Our goal is to bring you the truth at a time when disinformation is rampant.
But while much of the world’s focus may be on Ukraine, we are continuing our reporting on myriad other humanitarian disasters – from Haiti to the Sahel to Afghanistan to Myanmar. We’ve been covering humanitarian crises for more than 25 years, and our journalism has always been free, accessible for all, and – most importantly – balanced.
You can support our journalism from just $5 a month, and every contribution will go towards our mission.