Opinion: Millions of people have been trapped in limbo by the world’s two-speed COVID-19 recovery

If you live in Canada, the United States, Israel, Australia or the affluent parts of Asia, the COVID-19 pandemic will likely end this year. Vaccinations are being carried out in these countries with such speed and efficiency that life will return to a large extent in the fall.

For those living in less wealthy countries, however, the recovery has not even begun. In less-affluent parts of Asia, Africa, and the Americas, barely enough vaccines have been produced or distributed for more than a sliver of vaccination, and there are limited resources to distribute them. The path to vaccination, indoor gathering and international travel remains unclear – perhaps until the end of 2022 for middle-income countries, and possibly even later for the poorest, where life and borders remain closed.

Because wealthy countries have decided to vaccinate themselves first, the resulting two-speed recovery has left many people trapped.

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Some are stranded in their own countries, unable to leave for important work; Some, in the country where they sought work, are unable to send money home; And a surprisingly large number, estimated in the millions, are stuck in the middle.

In Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, the city of Agadez has been populated by countless people from Sudan, Mali, Nigeria and elsewhere who seek seasonal work primarily in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe during times of the pandemic. were in Closed the boundaries of the slam and locked them in place.

Agadez, an ancient caravan-train town, became a major transit hub for cross-Saharan human migration in the 2010s. It developed a vibrant economy that provided services for these migrants. Now, that industry has dried up, and thousands of migrants caught there have become dependent on donations and aid.

Their number is continuously increasing. According to Doctors Without Borders, between January and the end of April this year, neighboring Algeria expelled 4,370 people from its southern border into Niger; After 23,175 people were expelled during the pandemic last year. The chaos in Libya and the fear of disease has sent thousands more to Niger.

Most are not allowed to return to their home countries, which are locked down for fear that their returning citizens will bring the infection. There is a growing belief that many are no longer “transit” populations but long-term residents. United Nations agencies have begun to provide schooling and health services for their children, and move them from tents to more permanent homes.

You’ll find a similar situation in Guatemala’s northern border towns, where the pandemic was used by that country’s government to close the border with Mexico and bring back thousands of migrants, including a caravan of 9,000 that was attacked by Guatemala. it was done. Police are fleeing weather devastation, political violence and economic ruin in most of the countries of the South in January; These factors, along with closed borders, prevent them from returning.

This has complicated the situation in Mexico, which has one of the largest populations of stranded migrants. Following the normal routes of the United States, hundreds of thousands have traveled north across the country, only to find that the outbreak has led to the closure of the border, even for legal migration. . And, since March 2020, the United States has expelled more than 600,000 southward, many of whom are trapped in Mexico, living modest lives in border towns or on the periphery of cities.

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You will see a similar situation in many parts of Indonesia, where migrants going south, unable to return home, are stuck there because of Australia’s bulletproof COVID-19 border closure. Similar trapped populations have been reported in Morocco, Kazakhstan, Djibouti and other traditional “transit” countries, which are now dealing with the kind of people that migration scholars call “involuntary sedentary”.

Last summer, the International Organization for Migration estimated that three million such people were trapped. Many of them have been returned; India alone used its army to bring back hundreds of thousands. But new populations have arrived, driven by unbearable conditions and unable to move on.

These millions of people fall into a dangerous hierarchical shadow: not refugees, but not citizens, and therefore do not officially exist in many countries. They pose the greatest risk of spreading disease, yet may be the last to be vaccinated. Paradoxically, many were looking for work in sectors critical to ending the coronavirus outbreak, including health care and elderly care; The closure of borders has left Europe and the United States facing an alarming shortage of such essential pandemic workers.

Wealthy countries’ selfish pursuit of a two-speed recovery has hindered the world’s economic recovery and provoked an explosion of dangerous new COVID-19 variants. We need to quickly end vaccination disparity between countries – but it is equally important for the millions of people who do not belong to anyone.

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