This article presents the key updates on mixed migration from five regions around the world during the fourth quarter of 2020. Links to the full Quarterly Mixed Migration Updates per region are included below.
Latin America and the Caribbean
Key Updates Quarter 4 – 2020
- In October, Colombian authorities pushed 5,000 Venezuelans back into Venezuelan territory at the Colombia-Venezuela border. The increased inflow of refugees and migrants following the reactivation of economic activities in Colombia led the Government to increase controls at the border, specifically at 17 irregular border crossings – commonly known as “trochas”.
- Across the region, criminalization of irregular border crossings and of failure to adhere to COVID-19- related travel requirements is being embraced by countries of transit and destination of mixed migration movements. As a response to the latest migrant caravans, Guatemala implemented decisions to criminalize irregular border crossings, to ensure controlled and regular entry. Mexico announced that people on the move taking part in the migrant caravan must comply with COVID-19 regulations upon entry or face arrest and prosecution.
- Hurricanes ETA and IOTA impacted over 9 million people in the region and triggered migration flows out of Honduras. 3.9 million Hondurans were affected by the hurricanes and 15,000 were left without shelter. The impact of the storms was the main driver behind the migrant caravan that departed from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on December 1st, heading towards North America.
- Migrant caravans from Central towards North America resumed in October. In the last quarter of 2020, a total of three migrant caravans departed from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with the aim of reaching the U.S., but were dissolved at the border between Honduras and Guatemala.
- The proposals for immigration reform made by the U.S. president elect during his campaign created strong expectations for change, as they would mark a stark departure from the policies enacted by the previous U.S. administration. The legacy of the outgoing government included end of year policy changes to the U.S. asylum process, making it more difficult for asylum seekers to apply for and receive protection.
- On December 4th, a boat with a seating capacity of 8 passengers carrying 41 Venezuelans bound to Trinidad and Tobago sank off the coast of Güiria, Venezuela. So far, only 33 bodies have been recovered.
- Colombia’s president announced in mid-December that irregular migrants in the country would not be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. After widespread criticism, the government explained the decision was taken to prevent more irregular border crossings.
Thematic Focus: Cuban migration towards North America
Key Updates Quarter 4 – 2020
- Land and sea arrivals to Italy and Spain from North Africa (through the Central and Western Mediterranean Routes) increased by 176% in Q4 compared to the same period in 2019. Overall, 2020 saw an 86% increase in arrivals on both routes compared to 2019.
- With 38%, Tunisians represented the top nationality to arrive in Italy through the Central Mediterranean Route (CMR) between January – November 2020. In total, 12,490 Tunisians arrived in Italy, marking the highest number since 2011.
- Similarly, in 2020, the largest share of refugees and migrants travelling on the CMR had departed from Tunisia (45%), overtaking embarkations from Libya (36%).
- Spanish media shared at the end of the year that over the course of 2020, a total of 2,170 refugees and migrants had died on the Atlantic Route to the Canary Islands, suggesting it may be one of the most dangerous routes.
- In Q4, 2,367 refugees and migrants were intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) and returned to Libya. This represents an increase of 10% compared to roughly the same period in 2019. The overall figure for 2020 of intercepted refugees and migrants stands at 11,265, compared to 9,035 interceptions in 2019, marking a 25% increase.
- From January – November 2020, 82,567 refugees and asylum seekers in Sudan were registered by UNHCR, which marks a 343% increase compared to the same period in 2019. 57% of the newly registered arrived in the month of November, linked to the outbreak of conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, increasing the number of Ethiopian refugees in Sudan to 58,836.
Thematic Focus: Ethiopian refugees in Sudan
Key Updates Quarter 4- 2020
- Algeria expulsions to Niger: According to NGO Alarme Phone Sahara, at least 7,836 people were expelled from Algeria to Niger in a series of convoys, both official and unofficial, taking place over the course of the month of October and in mid-November. The UNHCR Special Envoy for the Western & Central Mediterranean qualified these collective expulsions as “contrary to international law.”
- Canary Islands arrivals: Some 15,900 refugees and migrants arrived to the Canary Islands by sea from October-December, a figure more than double the total for the rest of the year combined (approximately 6,135 arrivals from January-September), bringing the total arrivals for 2020 to an estimated 23,025.
- Côte d’Ivoire election displacement: Tensions, clashes and the fear of further violence surrounding the 31 October presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire had caused some 24,277 Ivorians to seek refuge in neighboring countries as of the year’s end. The majority were being hosted in Liberia (23,075), of whom more than 60% are children and 25% are women.
- Burkina Faso IDPs: Numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Burkina Faso, which had seen substantial increases in each previous quarter in 2020, plateaued in the fourth quarter. However, according to UNHCR the year saw the numbers of IDPs in Burkina Faso almost double, from 560,033 in December of 2019 to 1,074,933 as of 31 December 2020.
Thematic Focus: Exploring migration motivations of West Africans taking the Atlantic route (based on condensed excerpts from a forthcoming MMC study)
East Africa and Yemen
Key Updates Quarter 4 – 2020
- Conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region spurs mass displacement: More than 56,000 Ethiopians have fled to neighbouring Sudan due to conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
- Movement along the Eastern Route slowly restarts this quarter: Refugee and migrant arrivals from East Africa to Yemen increased this quarter with 4,413 new reported arrivals. This is an overall increase of 193% from 1,505 refugees and migrants who arrived between July and September 2020. In particular, arrivals during this quarter increased by 51% between October (1,038) and December 2020 (2,035).
- Increased movement along return route from Yemen to East Africa: Between May and December 2020, 5,950 refugees and migrants were recorded entering Djibouti from Yemen on maritime journeys. Over 2,500 of these returnees were recorded from October to December 2020.
- Fewer Ethiopian deportations from Saudi Arabia in 2020: In 2020, 36,632 Ethiopians were deported from Saudi Arabia, a 70% decrease from the 120,825 Ethiopians returned in the whole of 2019.
- East African refugees and migrants in Libya: In Libya, 9,482 East Africans were registered as people of concern by UNHCR by the end of 2020 and over 18,000 East Africans migrants were recorded by IOM in Libya at the end of October 2020.
- East Africans arrivals to Europe remain limited: By the end of December 2020, 3,089 refugees and migrants from East Africa were reported arriving in Europe along the Central Mediterranean and Eastern Mediterranean Routes.
- Reports of abuse of East African asylum seekers by US officials: The Guardian newspaper reported mistreatment and abuse of asylum seekers this quarter by US officials on deportation flights from the United States to African countries (including Kenya).
Key Updates Quarter 4 – 2020
- Economic difficulties prompt governments to resume labor mobility schemes: Bleak employment prospects and the loss of remittances in home countries, have caused many migrants to consider re-migration in search of livelihoods. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pacific Islands nations, among others, have begun negotiations to resume sending their citizens abroad as part of labor mobility schemes.
- Concerns rise as over 3,000 Rohingya refugees transferred to the isolated island of Bhasan Char: Since early December, Bangladesh has executed its plan to move Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar refugee camps to the isolated island of Bhasan Char. Rights groups are concerned that the relocations have occurred via coercion and force.
- Initiatives to regularize migrant workers welcomed in Thailand and Malaysia, however concerns over labor exploitation persist: Thailand and Malaysia are among countries who have rolled out recent initiatives to regularize sections of their migrant workforces. Rights groups, however, have highlighted the need to simultaneously address prevailing issues of labor exploitation in both countries.
- Increased concerns over the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in mixed migration movements: Reports by the UNHCR showed that women and girls worldwide, including refugee and displaced women and girls, have experienced increased gender-based violence since the COVID-19 outbreak. COVID-19 has also fueled increased human trafficking and exploitation in countries across the region, including Cambodia and India.
- Good practices emerge across the region, although more actions are needed to promote the inclusion of refugees and migrants in national COVID-19 responses: As COVID-19 vaccination programs are to be rolled out in many countries in 2021, concerns are emerging over whether refugees and migrants will be adequately accounted for in national vaccination plans.
Thematic Focus: More attention needed for climate change-induced displacement and migration
 The official IOM record is 2,035 new arrivals, however confidential reports from trusted partners indicate that arrivals in Yemen in December 2020 potentially reached up to 9,000.