2021: A Global Pandemic, New Wars, and New Refugees

It’s been a tough year for the world’s refugees. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit them hard, and not just because refugees represent a vulnerable, often closely-packed cohort. Governments the world over have pressed the pause button on their societies, imposing lockdowns and strict rules of association that even those with their own homes and stocked larders have found hard to endure Migrants and asylum seekers have all too often been left out in the cold.

For refugees, the crisis has been yet another existential challenge to add to the many they have already endured. Government departments, non-governmental organizations, aid agencies, and all those who support the refugee and migrant populations in their own countries, have inevitably had to curtail their operations to follow pandemic protocols. Asylum seekers labouring to support their families have been unable to work. Vital community help such as winter clothing handouts have been curtailed.

The Mediterranean has been a sea of death and despair, with new and more dangerous routes taking extra lives. Attempts to bypass Greece from Turkey and sail to Italy instead have brought a higher risk to poorly prepared and overloaded vessels. ‘Pushbacks’ at sea are on the rise.

Meanwhile, a new breed of coyotes are exploiting the desperation of many Africans to escape violence and poverty and make something of their lives. The mid-Mediterranean crossing from Libya northwards can be extremely hazardous at this time of year, with frequent and dangerous storms just off the north African coast. 39 people drowned when their boat capsized off Kerkennah Island just a week ago. But for the efforts of the Tunisian coastguard, a further 134 would certainly have perished. An average of three people a day are currently dying on the crossing from North Africa to Europe.

Conflicts in Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Yemen, and elsewhere have flared up in the past twelve months, while ongoing tragedies continue to generate streams of destitute civilians fleeing random violence in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, and South Sudan. Refugee emergencies are afflicting Burundi, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Impoverished Venezuelans still stream across the nation’s borders. Rohingya continue to be oppressed in Myanmar, especially since the coup d’état, and there’s no sign of and end to the plight of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Refugee reception centres are being set up in Thailand, close to its long, porous border with Myanmar, for people fleeing death and oppression by the China-backed junta. Karenni villagers, members of an ethnic group which had negotiated peace with Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, are once again being shelled, shot, and raped by a now-unrestrained Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s gangsterized military.

In Afghanistan, there’s been a surge in violence as parties jostle for leverage before the Americans’ slated departure on May 1 this year, while in Syria, winter storms and renewed violence in the north have heaped despair on vulnerable refugees unable to cross into Turkey.

We can only hope that 2021 brings some hope and perhaps a little peace to these many war-torn regions.

This article first appeared on Maqshosh.

John Clamp writes for Maqshosh.