2020 on Migrants and Refugees: 2 Urgent Reports & a New WHO’s Tool

1 The “age of accelerations” is pressing global migration and fostering uncertainty

The WORLD MIGRATION REPORT 2020 outlines an acceleration of global migration processes. Although, at the present, the round 272 million migrants worldwide correspond to “only” 3.5% of the world's population, the WMR 2020 highlights how these findings already exceed past estimates for 2050, and in many contexts look set to increase. It is anyway difficult to make accurate forecasts on migratory waves, since they are strictly dependent on acute events (such as economic crisis, social instability or conflict). On the other hand, the steady movement of populations is always to be framed as part of long-term processes, (typically, economic development, demographic trends, possibilities of communications and transportation access). Aiming a comprehensive perspective, the International Organization for Migration identifies the main causes of the recent trend in the heterogeneous interplay between historical contingencies and <the unprecedented pace of change in the (geo)political, social, environmental and technological spheres> at global level, which end up impacting on all those short- and long-term processes. The analysis of this dizzying trend in its multiple global aspects is proving increasingly essential for understanding the new migration patterns and “corridors” that have developed in recent years. At the same time, the acceleration of current global transformations turns out to be a decisive catalyst for the growing phenomena of turbulence and disillusionment at a political and social level. <Deepening geopolitical tensions are transforming international relations, and political tribalism is revealing deep fissures within countries. The spread of exponential technologies is upending long-held assumptions about security, politics, economics and so much more.> 

The tension between the increase in migratory movements and the growing concerns about it, in such a disoriented context, is generating several and sometimes diametral opposite outcomes. The need to share and coordinate the decades-long efforts, by all authorities and stakeholders involved in the management of the phenomenon, is becoming increasingly evident. This has led in the last two years finally to the formation of the United Nations Network on Migration and the finalization of two global compacts on refugees and migration (the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, and the Global Compact on Refugees), in order to improve how migration is governed at international level. On the other hand, the perception of migration has also increased in public awareness, accompanying an extreme politicization of the issue, often exacerbated and polarized. Also for this reason, the chapters of the second part in WMR 2020 are dedicated to a selection of themes particularly relevant for the debates about migration in today’s world. In this respect, the explicit intention of the report is not to provide or advocate specific solutions, but to offer instead a global contextualized view of the current issues.

2 Save the children: <five years later refugee and migrant children are often worse off>

Five years after the peak of the so-called "refugee crisis" in Europe, in 2015, Save the Children takes stock of the state of play in its report 'Protection beyond reach': the result is dramatically negative. The conditions of migrant and refugee children are analyzed in this report according to <five key themes: protection at Europe’s outer borders; immigration detention; access to asylum and residency; family reunification; and guardianship>. NGO clearly illustrates how, in all these aspects, the inadequate efforts of policy makers have only been surpassed by the even more inadequate implementation of policies established. In this respect, the first complaint is directed against the agreements with Turkey and North Africa, as well as the management of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Afghanistan, which have reduced migratory pressure on Europe, without actually solving the inhuman conditions in which migrant and refugee children end up at EU’s external borders and in the transit countries. The second charge targets (once more) the inability of countries to agree on mechanisms for sharing responsibility for refugees and migrants, both in Europe and worldwide.  

Unfortunately, the situation has been further aggravated, not only by not-doing, but also by doing. In fact, in the absence of an efficient and co-responsible asylum system, many states have individually adopted policies that are totally contrary to the protection and accommodation of migrant and refugee children. It has gone from harsh border policies (mass border rejections and abuses) to the increased 'temporary' detention time at borders, to the multiplication of obstacles preventing children from getting refugee status or reuniting with their families. In all these cases, the aggravating circumstance is that all Member States are theoretically bound and obligated by the treaties they have signed (in particular, the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) to respect the right to asylum and to consider the best interests of the child. In view of the announcement of the new EU pact on migration and asylum, Save the children calls for a shared change of pace, addressing the issues raised point by point. 

3 WHO provides a new tool to improve migrant and refugee health 

The World Health Organization has published in 2020 a new technical guidance, actually an informative handbook of knowledge, know-how and best practices for the collection and integration of migrant and refugee health data within and across different Health Information Systems (HIS). As such, it represents first of all a proactive response to the serious lack of real sharing possibilities between databases, which had been systematically highlighted by a large number of previous studies. In practice, it constitutes a new tool for effective improving the health of migrant populations at EU and international level as well as the performances of healthcare systems in general.  

It is widely recognized that communicable diseases disproportionately affect migrant populations, while staying in host countries increases their risk of contracting non-communicable diseases. To cope with this evidence, WHO has carried out over the years several studies aiming to an overall view of the underlying issues. Among others, the series of HEN-synthesis-reports has been highlighting on several occasions, and particularly in the summarizing thematic HEN-synthesis-report 66 of 2019, the extreme heterogeneity and incompatibility of the different HIS with regard to classifications, definitions, indicators, and data collection processes related to migrants and refugees. This complexity is partially due to the intrinsic fact that refugees and migrants are an extremely heterogeneous group. On the other hand, different national attitudes towards migrant populations make it difficult to even agree on an international definition of ‘migrant’. As a result, this whole range of data integration issues not only leads, in the first instance, to misunderstandings of the migratory phenomenon related to healthcare as well as to discrimination in the healthcare regarding migrants and refugees; but it is also detrimental to the healthcare systems themselves and, therefore, to overall population health outcomes. The latter evidence has been recently well documented, inter alia, in relation to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Regarding the necessary factors for understanding the health status (such as mortality, morbidity, disability and well-being) of refugees and migrants, one cannot afford to consider only general health-related data. Data on other determinants such as socioeconomic, behavioral, environmental, demographic and political factors are equally essential in this context. Since there is no possibility for a single data source to provide all the information needed for HIS, WHO’s new technical guidance aims to overcome the many intrinsic and contingent obstacles by promoting evidence based knowledge and practical common guidelines for sharing sources, for data integration into national HIS, for harmonization of data reporting at international level as well as for the cooperation between different entities, organizations and ministries.