The pandemic has briefly pulled the brakes on migration

OCTAVIAN DAN (Translated by Cosmin Ghidoveanu)
English Section / 04 mai

The pandemic has briefly pulled the brakes on migration

Telework is lowering the mobility of "skilled" workers

The OECD thinks migration is positive

Migrants' children most affected by the sanitary crisis

Seasonal workers, the first to return abroad

Romanians are "European champions" in terms of migration

Pressure on the Greek-Turkish border has returned

The lockdown has messed up people's lives all over the world. This has overlapped with other, smaller crises. It has influenced several areas of business and has also had a positive influence on migration. In mid 2020, the migration rate had dropped to half.

Whereas in the beginning of the pandemic the migration process has been pushed towards zero, afterwards, people, driven by all kinds of issues, from wars to economic issues, have begun moving across borders again. In 2021, the migrant waves are returning to an abnormal normal. At the same time, the lockdown has deepened the existing crises, giving further reasons for people to move from one region to another, with migration reversing, causing many to return to their home countries. The phenomenon has also been visible in Romania - due to the job-related problems, as well as out of fear, many compatriots decided to return home.

Later, in the second half of 2020, when several stats - noting the deadlocks on the labor market, especially in the agricultural sector - have reopened their borders for seasonal workers, massive departures began again. It is well known the "asparagus" scandal with Romanian citizens leaving for work in Germany just as the state of emergency was in full effect in Romania.

In poor countries, the lockdown has deepened the economic crisis even further, and on top of that came the climate problems. The lockdown is generating "an exceptional flux of economic migrants'', said Italian foreign affairs minister. "The EU needs to take action immediately about this problems" and to allocate the new arrivals, "especially in this phase of increased sanitary risk", Italian foreign affairs minister Luigi Di Maio was saying last year. Italy is faced with waves of migrants arriving by sea, and migrants die weekly. Over 1200 illegal migrants drowned last year trying to reach Europe, according to the International Migration Organization. Since January 2021, about 300 have died or have declared missing during those dangerous crossings, according to the IMO. If migration has not been as numerically spectacular last year, in 2020, the refugees crisis has deepened.

The number of people who have been forced to leave their living areas has reached a level of 79.5 million in 2019, meaning about 1% of the planet's population, according to the UNHCR. In 2019, the number of those who took refuge abroad or within their countries has increased by almost 9 million. Whereas in the 90s, on average 1.5 million refugees were returning home every year, in the last decade t that number fell below 400,000. Also, the climate change run the risk of causing millions of displaced people, UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi warned. According to a UN expert, the world is facing a "climate apartheid'', on one hand the rich can adapt better to global warming and on the other hand, the poor are bearing the worst.

The OECD thinks that migrants are the most affected by the lockdown

The OECD Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) thinks that migrants are the most affected by the lockdown. Concerning migration, it has considerably decreased, which is bad for both sides, the OECD alleges. The organization dubiously claims that migrants would have succeeded in ensuring the functioning of sectors such as healthcare, trade and logistics, even during the restrictions. One such example was provided by Germany, which last year, during the full border closure due to the lockdown, decided to allow seasonal workers access to the country.

Another interesting issue is that, according to the data published by the OECD, migrants represent about 24% of the total doctors and 16% of the care personnel, and thus are in the first lines of the fight against COVID-19. Because of the inadequate housing conditions, in overcrowded areas, a large percentage of the migrants got infected with coronavirus. Several studies made in a number of OECD member countries have revealed the fact that the risk of infection is two times greater among migrants compared to the local population. Migrants have been very affected by the issues of the European economies. At the EU level, in the HoReCa sector about a quarter of employees come from other countries, twice more than in other economic sector. Hospitality industry employees have been fully affected by the crisis, and migrants were the first to become unemployed. According to some estimates, in the first half of 2020, the migration rate dropped by half. The closing of the borders, the travel restrictions have led to that. The OECD does not believe that the situation is going to change too soon, even if the economy were to return to normal again. One reason is that during the pandemic, many jobs have been replaced by telework, which involves less human mobility. The demand for highly qualified workforce is strongly dropping. "Migration is positive, is an integral part of our lives, it is something that connects us. The pandemic, the isolation, and the restrictions have demonstrated to us how much we need one another", said Stefano Scarpetta, head of the social issues and workforce in the OECD. Now there is talk about the fact that the progress pertaining to migration and integration have been partially annihilated by the pandemic.

European Council: "The lockdown has led to a serious disruption of the relocation operations"

On the European Council's website (Consilium.europa.eu) there is a document called "How the EU manages migration flows", which also discussed the relocation of migrants and the influence of pandemic: "Relocation allows refugees in need of protection enter the EU legally and safely, without having to risk their lives on dangerous trips. Since 2015, two EU-sponsored relocation programs have helped over 70,000 most vulnerable people who need international protection to find shelter in the European Union: 19,452 people have been relocated in the EU in the first relocation mechanism 2015, about 44,000 people have been relocated under the second relocation mechanism in 2017 and Member States will be able to continue to fulfill their commitments. The two mechanisms have covered 86% of the total relocation commitments. In addition, since mid-September 2020, over 27,000 people have been relocated under the EU-Turkey Declaration of 2016. Under the 9th Relocation Forum of July 2019, the European Commission invited member states to present their relocation commitments for 2020 to ensure that relocation efforts continue until a stable framework is established. Member States have presented nearly 29,500 commitments.

However, the lockdown and Covid-19 led to a serious disturbance of relocation operations, and the one-year initial program was transformed into a two-year program that covers the 2020-2021 period. In order to ensure that EU relocation efforts continue uninterrupted, starting in 2022, new relocation programs should be considered, taking into account the financial resources allocated under the Asylum and Migration Fund for the 2021-2027 period, in order to support Member States' commitments". According to the same source, in 2019, asylum seekers came from nearly 150 countries, with almost 699 000 requests, of which 631,000 applications filed for the first time were submitted in the EU, up 12% compared to 2018. An increasing number of applicants come from countries benefiting from a visa-free travel regime (in 2019, 27% of applicants who first introduced a request) and enter the EU legally, mostly from Venezuela (7.1 % of total new applications), Colombia (5%), Georgia (3.2%), Albania (2.7%). Most requests were submitted in Germany (142.450), France (138,290), Spain (115.175), Greece (74.910), Italy (35.005). Overall, in 2019, Member States granted some form of protection for nearly 300,000 asylum seekers. The largest groups of beneficiaries were Syrians (27% of the total), Afghans (14% of total), Venezuelans (13% of total). 141,700 illegal border crossings were recorded, the number decreased by 5% compared to 2018, being the lowest in the last six years.

Relevant to the migration situation during the lockdown is also the flow in the Turkey - Greece region. In 2020 it was almost quiet, in 2021 the commotion returned. Only a few hundred migrants arrived between March and August 2020 from Turkey to Greece, primarily as a result of stricter border controls, but also due to the Coronavirus epidemic. In 2015 and 2016, over a million migrants came from Turkey to Greece. In Turkey live 3.6 million Syrians, which form the largest refugee population in the world. Ankara threatened to open the borders, the fear of a new wave of migrants running way from the war in the northwest of Syria. Last month, European Commissioner Ylva Johansson appealed to Turkey to urgently receive migrants who did not receive asylum in Greece, stating that the EU will allocate EUR 276 million for the construction of new camps on the Greek islands. The European Commissioner for Home Affairs came to the Lesbos Island in the Aegean Sea to pressure the Greek government into accelerating the opening of new camps on the Samos, Chios, Kos and Lesbos islands before winter and to improve the conditions for the reception of the 14,000 asylum seekers located there. The European Commissioner also stressed that "the issue of migration should be Europeanized" and that the countries on the outskirts of Europe should not be left alone in the management of this crisis.

Romanians - European champions of migration

The 2019 European Commission statistics, the last year before the pandemic, showed that our country had the highest emigration rate across the Eurozone. According to official statistics, 3,107,000 Romanians, aged 15-64, lived at that time in one of the other 27 countries of the European Union. The number is much higher, if we include the states of the European Free Trade Area, which includes Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, but mostly migrants who do not work legally and are not registered in any way in the states they live in. Even so, Romanians are the largest community of Europeans who live outside the borders of the country where they were born. In the last year before the pandemic nearly 203,000 emigrated. Aside from Romania, other countries with a large diaspora were seeing a repatriation phenomenon. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia were each seeing tens of thousands of citizens coming back home. The sanitary crisis has accelerated the repatriation process.

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Children, most affected by the migration phenomenon

All over the world, the national plans concerning the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the turnaround measures mostly exclude migrants' children and the displaced ones, who are also faced with the significant reduction of access to essential services and protection, UNICEF announced. The basis for these findings is the data gathered in an investigation by UNICEF in 159 countries where it has an operational presence. It is estimated that there are 272 million international migrants worldwide, and 33 million are children, including 12.6 million refugee children and 1.5 million asylum seekers. Other tens of millions migrate within their own country - in India alone, 93 million children are internal migrants, according to estimates. Worldwide, 21.5 million children were internally displaced due to conflicts, violence or disasters. A more pronounced reduction in services is recorded in countries which are in crisis due to conflicts or disasters and where migrant children are already facing barriers to access to medical services, drinking water and appropriate sanitation services. According to UNICEF surveys, "50% of countries where UNICEF conducts humanitarian operations report shrinking access to medical services among displaced persons and refugees and almost a quarter of these countries report the discontinuation of water supply, hygiene and sanitation services in camps for refugees or displaced persons. For example, 58% of UNICEF offices included in the survey report inappropriate distance learning alternatives for vulnerable children, including refugees, migrants or those displaced internally; 6% report the reduction of protection services dedicated to migrant and displaced children; 50% report that refugees and asylum seekers do not benefit from the new social protection measures adopted or extended by the government in the context of the Covid-19 lockdown". UNICEF is also concerned by the spread of negative perceptions and hostility towards migrant children, a trend expected to intensify with the worsening of the socio-economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 lockdown and with the return of millions of migrants in the countries of origin, confronted with An increase in unemployment: "39% of UNICEF representations report an increasingly tense attitude towards migrants, displaced people and those returning home; that percentage goes as high as 50% in the case of fragile contexts".

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Record arrests on the Mexico-US borders

In March, the arrests of migrants at the US border with Mexico have reached the highest level in 15 years. More than 172,000 people were arrested by the Border Police last month, after trying to enter the US illegally, 71% more than in February. Those include an increasing number of unaccompanied minors, the number of which doubled in a month, up from about 9,400 to over 18,600, according to US Customs and Border Protection figures (CBP). The most important increase, however, is recorded among the migrants arriving with their families, which rose from about 20,000 in February to 53,823 in March. According to the situation on April 6, more than 20,000 of them were in government reception structures, some of which were hardly appropriate for taking on children, some of them very young. The Republican opposition accused President Joe Biden of having created a domino effect when he loosened the migration policies of his predecessor Donald Trump. He created "a human tsunami," Senator Lindsay Graham recently said. Since he became the US president, Joe Biden suspended the expulsions of immigrants without papers, introduced a bill to give them a way to obtain citizenship and began to admit a part of the asylum seekers who are waiting for months in camps of migrants in Mexico. Democratic President Joe Biden has committed themselves in the electoral campaign to erase "moral and national shame" inherited from his predecessor, Donald Trump, reference to the separation of thousands of thousands of migrant families, some of which have not yet reunited.

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