Highlights Vol 24, No. 12 - December 2020

Pandemic expected to cause growth in global migration to plummet

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affected all forms of human mobility. Around the globe, the closing of national borders and severe disruptions to international land, air and maritime travel obliged hundreds of thousands of people to cancel or delay plans of moving abroad, left thousands of migrants stranded or unable to return, and forced countless persons to return to their home countries earlier than planned.

While it is too soon to gauge the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migration, the latest data suggest that the pandemic may have caused a severe disruption in the growth of the global number of international migrants. Further, the loss of remittances in low- and middle-income countries due to COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the lives and well-being of thousands of migrants and their families.

While high-income countries continue to attract the largest number of labour migrants, low- and middle-income countries absorb the majority of people displaced across national borders due to persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. These inequities in global migration governance call for a more equitable sharing of responsibilities in finding sustainable solutions to the plight of refugees and have important implications for sustainable development.

In the beginning of next year, UN DESA’s Population Division will launch the International Migration Highlights, which will include updated estimates on the global number of international migrants.

This December marks two years since UN Member States adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Since then, the United Nations Network on Migration, charged with coordinating United Nations system-wide support to implement the Compact, has established the Migration Multi-Partner Trust Fund, created a knowledge platform and connection hub, and set up regional and national networks. Currently, the Network supports the first round of regional reviews of the Compact, in close cooperation with the regional economic commissions. UN DESA is a member of the Network’s Executive Committee.

The report of the Secretary-General on international migration and development, prepared for the 75th session of the General Assembly, presents an overview of the latest activities by the United Nations system to assist countries in integrating migration considerations into national development plans. The report also assesses progress in measuring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets related to migration.

On 1 December, the Secretary-General will launch the first biennial report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Call-in details to join the event can be found here.

In the face of danger: looking back at a year like no other

2020 has been a year like no other. COVID-19 turned our lives upside down as it tore through the world, leaving severe illness and death in its path. As New York City became the pandemic’s North American epicenter in the early months of 2020, UN Headquarters was forced to shutter. But our global efforts continued apace, as we quickly shifted toward remote work and digital technologies to deliver the support that countries needed.

With communities locked down, the global economy faltered. The mid-year forecast revealed in the UN’s World Economic Situation and Prospects, predicted a loss of nearly $8.5 trillion in output over the next two years, marking the sharpest contraction since the Great Depression in the 1930s. The ensuing impact on lives and livelihoods bordered on catastrophic.

“We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations — one that is spreading human suffering, infecting the global economy and upending people’s lives,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in these early days, as he addressed the media. “We must recognize that the poorest and most vulnerable — especially women — will be the hardest hit.”

From the start, UN DESA’s experts have closely monitored the crisis, putting a spotlight on the systemic fragilities that the crisis magnified and fielding policy recommendations to help the world navigate towards a sustainable recovery. Through some 30 policy briefs the Department targeted the most critical issues, addressing inequalities, fiscal stimulus plans to protect the most vulnerable, the role of digital government, science, and the fact that the 17 global goals are our best option to recover better.

These data, analysis and recommendations were taken to the regional and country level through capacity-building workshops and webinars and continue to be shared globally through a series of online dialogues. The dialogue series brings UN DESA’s analysis together with the views and thoughts of expert stakeholders and affected constituencies, to help foster truly inclusive solutions.

“In our darkest hours, we must strengthen multilateralism and global dialogues to rekindle the spirit of mutual trust, unity, partnership and interdependence,” said UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin. “We must confront the onslaught of the pandemic with fortitude, resolve and unity, not with fear, division and despondence. The history of humanity is the history of triumph against all odds. This time will be no different,” he said.

For more information: UN DESA Annual Highlights Report 2019-2020

Photo: The Empire State Building is lit up in red in honour of first responders during the COVID-19 outbreak in New York.
(UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

Follow Us