According to a new report from International Organization for Migration, during the first year of the pandemic there were more than 111,000 travel restrictions and border closures worldwide which peaked in December.
These measures “have frustrated the ability of many people to opt for migration as a tool to escape conflict, economic collapse, environmental disasters and other crises,” said the International Organization for Migration.
By mid-July, nearly three million people were stranded, sometimes without access to consular assistance, or the means to meet their basic needs.
The UN agency said that thousands of people were isolated in the jungle in Panama when they tried to travel north towards the United States; While in Lebanon, migrant workers were hit hard by the explosion at the Beirut port in August last year and the subsequent surge in COVID-19 cases.
ACNUR / Erick Gerstner
Fall in asylum requests
The border closures also prevented the search for accommodation for the displaced, a situation that did not affect business travelers, who “have continued to move quite freely”, including through the so-called “green lanes” agreed upon, such as the one linking Singapore with Malaysia.
Instead, people who were displaced out of necessity – such as migrant workers and refugees – have had to bear the costly expenses of quarantine and self-isolation, the IOM said. At the same time, he noted that, during the first half of 2020, asylum applications decreased by a third compared to the same period the previous year.
Restrictions are not the same for everyone
The International Organization for Migration points out that as the COVID crisis continues, it is likely that the distinction between people who can move and those who cannot.
“Among those who have the resources and opportunities to move freely, and those whose movements are severely limited by pre-existing or related COVID-19 travel and visa restrictions and limited resources.”
This inequality is even more feasible when anyone who has been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19, or those who have access to digital health records, are allowed to travel, something impossible for many migrants.
The closure of borders also reduced the options for those living in overcrowded camps with high rates of coronavirus infection such as in Bangladesh and Greece, the Organization’s report indicated.
© IOM / Ana Marcela Cerdas Jiménez
COVID-19 changes regional migration patterns in Latin America
The number of registered COVID-19 cases has been gradually increasing in South and Central America, and in February 2021 they accounted for 16% of all cases in the world.
Despite being one of the most affected regions in terms of new cases per million inhabitants during mid-2020, South and Central America did not experience the same spike in new cases that occurred in Europe or North America in recent months. of the year.
Despite this, the specific characteristics of some parts of the region have increased the impacts of COVID-19, including: overburdened health systems, acute food insecurity, high rates of urbanization (leading to overcrowded situations in life and work) and a high dependence on sectors highly affected by the crisis such as tourism.
This situation has increased the vulnerability of people on the move in a regional migration system defined in recent years by the displacement of more than 5.4 million Venezuelans since 2015.
The report indicates that travel restrictions related to the pandemic and economic hardship regional migration patterns have changed to some extent.
For example, Colombian authorities estimate that, despite the current struggle for political power and the economic crisis in Venezuela, as well as the current border closures, 122,000 Venezuelans had left Colombia and returned to their country at the end of November 2020. .
The pandemic disproportionately affects domestic workers
Migrants from the region, like many tourists during the first phase of the pandemic, were also stranded: this group includes a large number of Venezuelans who, sometimes for several months, were unable to return home from countries such as Argentina. and Chile, with many of them facing increasingly precarious situations.
Also part of the group of people stranded Bolivian and Peruvian migrant workers who in early 2020 were trapped on the Chilean border, some of whom slept in front of their consulates or found temporary refuge in disused schools.
Usually, the situation of migrant workers in the region has worsened. This group includes domestic workers who were exposed to a high risk of loss of income and, in some cases, were fired without receiving their remuneration.
A situation that worsened even more with the suspension during the pandemic of the application of labor reforms aimed at better protecting the rights of migrant workers, including those linked to the Declaration of Quito and the Convention on the International Labor Organization about domestic workers.