Though the number of people who migrated internationally increased to 281 million in 2020 – 9 million more than before Covid-19 – the number was 2 million lower than expected without a pandemic, according to the report.
“We are witnessing a paradox not seen before in human history,” said IOM director general, António Vitorino. “While billions of people have been effectively grounded by Covid-19, tens of millions of others have been displaced within their own countries.”
Internal displacement caused by violence, conflict and disasters increased to 40.5 million from 31.5 million. Globally, the IOM said governments implemented a total of 108,000 restrictions on international travel, alongside internal restrictions on movement, disrupting migration during the pandemic.
Prior to the report’s release, Vitorino told IOM member states on Monday that international cooperation was needed to ensure people were not stripped of the option of migrating when they needed to.
He also pointed out that people from countries with low levels of vaccination could be excluded from emigrating. “We must acknowledge the deep impacts the Covid-19 pandemic has had for people on the move: people stranded in transit, families separated across borders, migrants left unemployed but unable to afford the return home,” said Vitorino.
“The resulting complex patchwork of measures, frequently changing in scope and application, has placed a chilling effect on cross-border mobility, particularly for those unvaccinated.”
The report said conditions were particularly harsh for people from developing countries working in the Middle East and south-east Asia, with the pandemic affecting their incomes and housing, while they were also often excluded from access to healthcare and welfare.
However, the feared 20% drop in remittances – which can be a key lifeline to poor families during crises – that was predicted by the World Bank in April 2020 did not materialise and had been much lower, at 2.4%. This might be partly related to people being forced to send money to their families through formal routes, the report suggested, because options such as carrying cash were blocked off, as well as many working in jobs on the frontline of the pandemic that continued despite lockdowns.
Earlier, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Denis Pushilin, said the republic is negotiating with Pyongyang on the arrival of builders from North Korea. In July, North Korea recognized the independence of the DPR and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR).He said Russia will not force Donbas and North Korea to avoid cooperation.
MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea do not apply to the Donbas republics, Director of the Department of International Organizations at the Russian Foreign Ministry Pyotr Ilyichev said in an interview with Sputnik.
Earlier, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Denis Pushilin, said the republic is negotiating with Pyongyang on the arrival of builders from North Korea. In July, North Korea recognized the independence of the DPR and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR).
“The recruitment of labor from North Korea is subject to international restrictions established by UN Security Council resolutions. However, it must be taken into account that they apply to the member states of the world organization, which the people’s republics of Donbas are not,” Ilyichev said.
He said Russia will not force Donbas and North Korea to avoid cooperation.
The poliovirus is circulating again in the West. A virus that was on the way to global eradication has been detected in recent months in the wastewater of New York and London. This is not unusual, since it can appear in the fecal remains of vaccinated people with the attenuated pathogen. What’s different now is that the poliovirus – which causes the infectious disease polio – has been recorded in an adult in the United States, something that has not happened for a decade, and that samples from the United Kingdom suggest there is local transmission of the disease.
How did the virus get there? To answer this question, it is first necessary to understand the two types of vaccines that are used against polio. In countries where transmission is eradicated, an intramuscular vaccine is used. This contains the inactive virus, which is enough to prevent it from spreading in an environment where the pathogen is no longer circulating in the wild and most of the population is vaccinated. The second type of vaccine is made up of oral drops with a live attenuated virus, which is used in countries where polio continues to circulate. It produces antibodies in the blood, as well as the oral and intestinal mucosa. “With this vaccine, the immunized person would not develop the disease nor would they be able to infect others if they become infected with the wild virus,” explain researchers José Jiménez and Ana María Ortega-Prieto, from King’s College London, in an article in The Conversation.
The only two countries where polio remains endemic are Pakistan and Afghanistan, with 12 cases and one so far this year, respectively. Normally, when polio is detected in fecal remains in the wastewater, it comes from the excretion of people from these countries, which is not a major problem. What has happened now is that the virus is not just being detected in wastewater, it’s infecting people.
It’s still not fully confirmed that there is local circulation in London, but the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) has warned: “The poliovirus levels and the genetic diversity among the isolates suggests some level of virus transmission both in the areas where positive samples were found and in adjacent ones.”
Local circulation has been confirmed in New York, where one adult has been paralyzed due to the virus. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this case, is just “the tip of the iceberg.” “There are a number of individuals in the community that have been infected with poliovirus,” Dr. José Romero, from the CDC, told news network CNN. “The spread is always a possibility because the spread is going to be silent.”
As was seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, when a case is detected and its origin is unknown, it is normally a sign of uncontrolled transmission. “For every one case of paralytic polio identified, hundreds more may be undetected,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett in a statement. This is partly due to the fact that most people who contract the poliovirus are asymptomatic. Only in about 1% of cases does the virus cause problems: if it enters the central nervous system, it can cause paralysis and muscle atrophy.
What are the consequences of these outbreaks? In both London and New York, vaccination rates are lower than in the rest of their respective countries, meaning there is an elevated risk for children, who mainly affected by this disease. In London, authorities have already launched a vaccination campaign to offer booster doses to one million children between the ages of one and nine.
The road to polio eradication
The spread of polio is limited, at least in countries with high vaccination coverage. But these recent cases show that the virus still presents a risk and completely eradicating it is a complicated task, even if it seemed within reach.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was launched in 1988 with the aim of eradicating polio just as smallpox has been eradicated. In general terms, the program has been a success: the number of polio cases worldwide have dropped 99% since its creation.
Only Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Islamic fundamentalism makes vaccination campaigns difficult, report a few cases each year. And Nigeria, the other country where there is wild poliovirus (i.e. not the virus is transmitted by the attenuated vaccines), has not reported a single case since 2016.
The secret to this achievement is mass vaccination: first with the oral vaccine and then, when the country is already free of the disease, with the vaccine given by injection. Keeping vaccination levels high is key to curbing the virus.
According to UNICEF data, global vaccination levels dropped between 2019 and 2021 by 5%. In other words, 25 million children stopped receiving their doses. Vaccination rates are the lowest they have been in the last 30 years: 81% for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, which are considered a good indicator for other conditions. This means it is likely that polio coverage is at similarly low levels.
A group of adults and children who spent a month stuck on a scorpion- and snake-infested spit of land between Greece and Turkey – and denied help by both nations – were finally taken to temporary accommodation by Greek police this week.
Among the group of nearly 40 Syrian refugees forced to seek refuge on the islet in the Evros river was a five-year-old girl, Maria, reported to have died from a scorpion sting. Her nine-year-old sister remains gravely ill.
Migration minister Notis Mitarachi said on Tuesday that Greece would try to retrieve the body of the dead girl.
The ordeal is the latest incident to highlight what Niamh Nic Carthaigh, EU policy director at the International Rescue Committee, calls a “political game of gross irresponsibility” between the two countries that is costing lives.
One of the group, Baida Al-Saleh, 27, said the Syrians arrived on the islet on 14 July. Lawyers acting on their behalf obtained an interim measure from the European court of human rights on 20 July to allow them to remain, yet days later they were forcibly pushed back to Turkey and taken into custody.
In early August they were sent back to the islet. They survived by drinking river water and eating corn and leaves, while insects bit their skin in the heat. “They are treating us like animals,” said Al-Saleh in a voice note from the islet last week.
Civil society groups have put pressure on Turkey and Greece to rescue the group. Ankara made no comment but Athens claimed it was unable to help as the islet, charted as Greek on maps, was in Turkey.
In recent months thousands of people have attempted to cross the Evros River, dividing Turkey and Greece, taking advantage of shallow summer waters.
Both sides claimed to have searched for the group but found no one. The NGO Uluslararası Mülteci Hakları Derneği – which has ties to the Turkish government – said in a statement that security officers from the nearby city of Edirne came within 75 metres of the coordinates supplied by the migrants on 10 August and used a megaphone, but received no response.
The claims are disputed by lawyers and journalists, such as Giorgos Christides, who closely documented the group’s plight for the German news website Der Spiegel. They say they have collected evidence to support the group, including live locations and verified photo metadata.
In the end, the group crossed to Greece in a boat left by other migrants, fearful of a violent pushback but driven to seek help for nine-months pregnant Nor, who was in pain and bleeding.
A Greek police statement said 22 men, nine women and seven children were found, and that government services “rushed to their aid” with “food and water, and transported them to a place of temporary accommodation”.
Al-Saleh said the group were given medical care and they believe they will now be registered for asylum.
In recent months thousands have attempted to cross the Evros, dividing Turkey and Greece, taking advantage of shallow summer waters. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reported 3,225 recorded arrivals in Greece through the land border at Evros this year.
While the Syrians’ plight is not unique, it captured the sympathy of Greeks, in part due to the children in the group.
It is feared that an increasing number of Syrians could attempt the dangerous journey to Europe as Turkey starts to implement plans, announced in May, to return a million migrants to areas of Syria under Turkish military control.
Turkey is home to the world’s largest refugee population, with 3.6 million Syrians registered there alone, and the strain of this has led to anti-immigrant sentiment. Greece has long faced accusations of carrying out violent migrant pushbacks that continue, despite an EU warning in June that Athens risks losing funding.
Louise Donovan, UNHCR spokesperson in Greece, said the agency is deeply saddened by the child’s death, and urged both countries to observe international law. “While states have the legitimate right to control their borders, this must be done in accordance with national, European and international law, with full respect for human rights, most importantly the right to life.
“The urgent humanitarian imperative to protect human life must always be prioritised,” she said.