Last year's public perception of the global refugee situation was characterised by a number of dominant, mostly political topics. Besides these, there were many other, less visible but no less important issues. The proposal for a European Pact on Migration and Asylum is clearly a significant and visible event in the second half of 2020. When EU Commission President von der Leyen presented the Pact, she set a very high standard (Europe “will take a human and humane approach”), which however, did not stand up to critical scrutiny. Nor did they succeed in adopting it during Germany’s Presidency. The extension of the joint but controversial EU–Turkey statement of 2016 was also addressed. In this context, the European border and coast guard agency Frontex attracted much criticism, in particular because of illegal pushbacks. A report by the European Parliament is expected in July. The Council of Europe and UNHCR were highly critical of the state of refugee protection in Europe, saying that asylum is under attack at Europe’s borders.
And yet, other developments remained invisible. The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to counter it have worsened the situation in many fragile countries. Closed borders have severely restricted global migration movements, forcing people to cross the border irregularly; only very few seeking protection managed to reach Europe in 2020. In particular, the increasingly public debates have pushed other global dramas to the background. We hardly hear of the three million people who have fled and those who live under siege in Idlib, north-western Syria, the pandemic-related hunger among Syrians in Turkey, the 350,000 Yazidi survivors of the genocide in Iraq, still living in camps, newly displaced people from the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia or those who flee from recent attacks by IS in northern Mozambique. They all, at best, appear as cold data in statistics. Research will have to shed some light on this.
Russia’s threats of war against Ukraine are alarming, as a military conflict would not only bring death and destruction in its wake but also displace some hundreds of thousands if not millions more people in Europe. But, there is some positive news from the United States, which is gradually reopening its borders to refugees, and from Colombia, which is granting secure residence status to hundreds of thousands of displaced from Venezuela. All in all, however, things are still not looking good for “The Unwanted” of this world.
Franck Düvell, IMIS