To say that the year 2021 has been a momentous one when it comes to immigration issues is somewhat of an understatement. Indeed, we here at Optimus Law, the UK’s leading immigration lawyers, would wholeheartedly argue that the last 12 months have shook immigration policy makers to their very core.
As 2021 draws to a close, we look back at some of the most concerning issues when it comes to immigration that we have witnessed across the globe during the past 12 months.
An official immigration overview
Today, more people than ever live in a country other than the one in which they were born.
According to the IOM World Migration Report 2020, as of June 2019 the number of international migrants was estimated to be almost 272 million globally, 51 million more than in 2010. Nearly two thirds were labour migrants. International migrants comprised 3.5 per cent of the global population in 2019. This compared to 2.8 per cent in 2000 and 2.3 per cent in 1980.
While many individuals migrate out of choice, many others migrate out of necessity. According to UNHCR, the number of globally forcibly displaced people worldwide was 79.5 million at the end of 2019. Of these, 26 million were refugees (20.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, 5.6 million Palestine refugees under UNRWA’s mandate).
45.7 million people were internally displaced, 4.2 million were asylum-seekers, and 3.6 million were Venezuelans displaced abroad.
Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban
The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban horrified the world – including everyone here at Optimus Law. However, humanitarian issues aside, the event shone a clear spotlight onto the stance of various countries around the world when it comes to their stance on immigration issues, with some countries offering a haven to Afghans, while others were more intent on fortifying their borders.
UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that women, children, and religious minorities were to be prioritised in a UK resettlement scheme for 20,000 Afghan refugees. The scheme is similar in size and scope to one for Syrians under which 20,000 people have been resettled since 2014, prioritising survivors of torture, people with serious medical conditions and women with children.
However, the scheme came in for criticism, with The Guardian newspaper claiming that for some 20 years, the Home Office has gone to extreme lengths to return Afghans to the country they risked their lives to flee.
When it came to other countries, Australian Prime minister, Scott Morrison, said the country will provide about 3,000 humanitarian visas to Afghan nationals this year. However, he made it very clear that these will only be provided through proper channels. He is reported as saying ‘We will not be allowing people to enter Australia illegally, even at this time. Our policy has not changed’. In Canada, Forbes outlined how the country will take in up to 20,000 Afghan refugees, including women leaders, government workers and others facing threats from the Taliban.
However, Pakistan took an opposite approach. In June, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Pakistan would seal its border with Afghanistan in the event the Taliban took control. He said that Islamabad did not want another influx of refugees from its neighbour, as officials were struggling to cope with the estimated three million Afghan migrants already residing in Pakistan.
Belarus and Poland
Another example of the tragedy that unfolds from immigration issues can be seen from the plight of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers at the Poland-Belarus border. Indeed, the UN rights office and UN refugee agency recently urged all parties to respect human rights and refrain from using them for political ends.
The situation comes as Poland, as well as Lithuania and Latvia, which are all EU members, has seen an increase in the number of migrants, many from the Middle East, trying to enter their territories via Belarus in recent months.
The crisis has been brewing ever since the EU imposed sanctions against Belarus for cracking down on pro-democracy protests in the wake of the contentious August 2020 presidential election.
In November, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was appalled that large numbers of migrants and refugees continue to be left in a desperate situation in near-freezing temperatures.
She is reported as saying: “I urge the States involved to take immediate steps to de-escalate and resolve this intolerable situation in line with their obligations under international human rights law and refugee law.”
The UK / French border
A recent report by I News outlines how the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats has risen almost one hundred-fold over the past three years, according to analysis of Home Office data.
Almost 26,000 people are believed to have arrived in Britain this year after crossing the Channel on a small boat. In 2018, the figure is thought to have been as small as 299, meaning the number has jumped almost 8,700 per cent over the past three years.
The UK government has faced pressure throughout most of the past year to control the escalating situation. In response, Home Secretary Priti Patel keeps returning to the option of potentially changing the law to allow the UK to “push back” boats en-route to the UK and return them to their departure-point, France.
However, recent analysis shows that such plans stand, at best, on a flimsy legal footing. In addition to facing three legal challenges from charities over the controversial “push back” plans, the Home Secretary has been advised that the odds of successfully defending a challenge in the courts against the lawfulness of plans to send vessels carrying people back to France is “less than 30%”.
As we move into 2022, the UK / France immigration issue will doubtless remain as a mainstream topic among government policy makers and spin-doctors and will continue making headline news.
However, whatever happens, please let us not lose sight of the terrible human cost that often lies behind these stories. It is therefore very highly likely that we will continue reporting on it in our regular blogs – so do keep returning here to read our analysis.
The UK Covid pandemic
With the new Covid Omicron variant causing uncertainty, it is worth emphasising the effect that the pandemic has had over the last year – and is continuing to have – on UK migrants with limited or insecure status.
Earlier this year, a study revealed that around 75% of migrants have struggled to pay for food during the pandemic, while half were left unable to afford other essentials such as toiletries and cleaning products.
Of those who needed financial support, 64% were unable to access it.
The findings came as part of the Building Resilience Project, a partnership between Migrant Voice, Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research, and Kanlungan Filipino Consortium.
It goes without saying that no-one wants the Omicron variant causing even more Covid devastation. It is certainly the last thing that migrants want to face, on top of the many other issues they have to contend with, so we continue to monitor for any developments in the ongoing battle against Covid.
The examples cited here in this article are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to noteworthy immigration issues from the last year.
Add to the above various pieces of legislation we have seen brewing over the past 12 months, including the UK’s Nationality and Borders Bill and the USA’s own immigration strategy which can be found on the White House website and you begin to see that 2022 has the potential of being even more newsworthy than the last 12 months.
It also has every potential of challenging global policy making to an even greater extent than we have already seen.
Watch this space for more analysis – and we will look forward to welcoming you again next year.