At the peak of the pandemic in mid-December 2020, there were 111,000 actions worldwide to combat COVID-19, ranging from travel restrictions to mandatory pre-departure testing or quarantine on arrival. Travelers and immigrants, as well as businesses, experienced problems that nations had to deal with at three different times: impeding movement; Phased reopening and response to outbreaks of new viruses and mutations. Portugal is one of the countries highlighted by a study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for introducing measures for undocumented immigrants, although I assert that this was for economic reasons.
“The year 2020 saw an abrupt decrease in mobility across international borders. The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out tourism and business travel; ended most seasonal and temporary labor migration; for refugees; and delayed visa processing of all kinds,” the report says. “Covid-19 and Global Mobility in 2020”, which resulted from the collaboration of the International Organization for Migration and the Institute for Migration Policy (IPM).
They analyzed the patchwork that shaped the measures applied around the world, starting with Almost complete closure of borders between January and March 2020. Strategies whose effects on combating the spread of SARS-CoV-2 have yet to be evaluated have yet to be evaluated more than a year later, Study confirms. But they left deep marks on those who needed to move for professional reasons and for their own survival.
In 2021, governments face the “challenge of developing mitigation strategies that go beyond border closures and travel bans,” the study says, which warns: They will have to avoid unilateral responses and work with governments and other international organizations to develop planned and implemented health and border policies.
Portugal and Europe
Europe was hit particularly hard during the first phase of the pandemic. “The European continent was responsible for nearly half of the cases and more than 60% of the deaths worldwide. Spain and Italy were particularly affected, with the highest number of cases and deaths, respectively.”
To contain the spread of the virus, European Union countries have implemented stricter controls. “Although the initial restrictions did not include the suspension of travel, the subsequent closure of the borders has significantly weakened freedom of movement in the European Union.”
Entry into the EU was largely banned after 17 March 2020, limited to essential travel (eg medical teams and returning citizens). Asylum applications fell 40% in the first six months of 2020; Irregular incomes fell by 20% and the number of refugees fell almost fourfold.
But according to Benton, Batalova, Davidoff-Gor and Schmidt, authors of the study, the pandemic has also highlighted the “important role of migrants in performing essential functions in EU societies, who represent 13% of the essential workforce in the community space (for example), in care health and agriculture).
At the same time, migrants tend to enjoy less social protection and rights than those in the European Union, which are exacerbated by the case of irregulars. For example, mention the poor living conditions of agricultural workers in Odemira.
But Portugal has been highlighted for agreeing to temporary measures so that foreigners without residence permits have the same rights as resident citizens – to health, social protection and education. Even because operations have been delayed further with the pandemic due to the shutdown of services.
“Overall, the pandemic has exacerbated these vulnerabilities. Although some countries, including Germany, Italy and Portugal, have introduced exemptions and regularization measures for migrant workers, these countries were primarily intended to address economic challenges rather than protect workers’ rights. Other countries, such as France, have sought to draw on their national workforce to fill the labor shortage.”
More costs and merchants
The closure of the typical migration corridors used by workers, for example, through the Balkans, has also changed the dynamics of mobility in Europe and in the countries of Central and Southeast Europe that have seen the return of hundreds of thousands of citizens from Western Europe. The area became host to thousands of travelers and trapped migrants.
Starting in April, asylum registries are gradually starting to resume, with adapted security measures, such as remote interviews and social distancing at centres. They have increased sharply since June 2020, but, according to the report, they are still well below the pre-pandemic amounts.
Portugal received 1,002 applications for national protection in 2020, of which 54.1% were made in 2019 (1849), according to the SEF. It hosted 330 refugees under various international programmes, including the resettlement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“The epidemic was an obstacle to the exercise of the right to asylum, people faced many difficulties in moving. On the other hand, it represented greater costs for organizations, because we had to accommodate fewer people everywhere, in addition to all the sanitation,” explains Tito Campos E. Matos, Vice President of the Portuguese Refugee Council.
“The gap between those who can move around and those who can’t widen. Covid-19 has significantly reduced the odds of some groups moving, while making little difference to those whose nationality, resources and status allowed them to cross borders to work for family reasons. It has contributed It has increased the social and economic vulnerabilities of those who depend on mobility for survival—unemployment has hit migrant workers—and has frustrated the ability of many people to migrate to escape conflict, economic collapse, environmental disaster, and other crises. middlemen to get work and for traffickers.”
Phases of the epidemic
In the first phase of the pandemic (March to May 2020), government officials issued or extended 43,300 travel-related measures, with at least 70 bans, according to the report. The number of international passengers fell by 92% in April and May compared to the same period in 2019. Frontex (the agency that monitors EU borders) recorded the largest drop in the number of illegal immigrants ever.
The next period, between June and September, is marked by a phased reopening. New Zealand and Australia kept borders closed, while other countries like the Caribbean opened to tourism as early as July. The move other countries only reached in August or September. Most Asian countries have maintained restrictions.
Portugal cut almost all flights in the first phase, resuming in June and July. They reopened the land border with Spain on July 1, but this whole process saw progress and setbacks. The country lost 41 million passengers in 2020, down 69.6% compared to 2019.
The months from October to December were marked by the need to respond to new outbreaks and mutations of the virus. Countries have sought to enact health measures rather than travel restrictions. Some, such as Chile, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates, have even opened their borders to tourists. Health certificates are becoming the most common travel procedure, gradually replacing quarantine and testing.
In December, governments imposed road restrictions from The United Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, South Africa. Response was to alpha (first discovered in the UK) and beta (South Africa) variants. This is the case of Portugal, which has created restrictions on travelers from countries where new variants have emerged, which is also the case in Brazil. Only since September 1 is non-essential travel allowed from the Brazilian territory, which also happens with respect to the USA. UK passengers are no longer required to quarantine.
The study’s authors are not convinced of the efficacy of each country’s attempt to turn itself into a bubble. “While there are some exceptions, notably Australia and New Zealand, other countries have largely failed to close borders to prevent the spread of the virus, and those that have succeeded have simultaneously introduced a comprehensive set of domestic measures, making it difficult to ascribe a causal cause. “ The emergence of more resistant variants of SARS-CoV-2 induced new responses, he adds, but “when countries imposed restrictions, new variants were already proliferating.”
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