2021 Year in Review: Refugee, migrant numbers rise, despite travel curbs |


By November, more than 84 million people had been forced from their homes, according to UNHCR data. This figure is an increase from 2020 and 2019, both of which were record-breaking years in terms of the numbers forcibly displaced around the world. 

‘A paradox not seen before in human history’

This rise was coupled with a drop in global mobility overall due to stricter travel rules, prompting the Director General of the UN migration agency (IOM), António Vitorino, to declare that the world was “witnessing a paradox not seen before in human history.”

“While billions of people have been effectively grounded by COVID-19, tens of millions of others have been displaced within their own countries,” he said, at the launch of the agency’s latest World Migration Report.

The migration agency also warned that refugees, and migrants who move out of necessity, have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-related travel restrictions, and millions have found themselves stranded away from home, and in danger.


At least 30,000 migrants are stranded at borders in West Africa according to the UN.

IOM/Monica Chiriac

At least 30,000 migrants are stranded at borders in West Africa according to the UN.

Fleeing violence and armed attacks

Conflict is one of the main reasons that people leave their homes in search of a better life, and there was, sadly, a great deal of violence to escape throughout the year, particularly in Africa, where huge numbers were displaced, either within their own borders, or to neighbouring States.

Many African countries were affected: in the Central African Republic, presidential elections were followed by fighting; the Darfur region of Sudan was hit by inter-communal violence; atrocities were committed by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo; and in Burkina Faso there was a rise in violent jihadist attacks. Several hundred thousand people were displaced as a result.

The rising conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region in 2021 caused widespread concern and massive displacement, with UNHCR reporting desperate people crossing into Sudan with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Meanwhile, Eritreans who had come to Ethiopia, escaping violence in their own country, soon found themselves caught up in the Tigray fighting: in March, satellite images showed that camps housing thousands of Eritrean refugees had been burned to the ground.

UN humanitarian workers weren’t able to get access to the refugees until August, when they delivered urgently needed aid supplies.


Displaced people wait in line at a distribution site in Kabul, Afghanistan.

© UNHCR/Tony Aseh

Displaced people wait in line at a distribution site in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Millions displaced in Afghanistan

Even before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, the worsening security situation in the country meant that more than a quarter of a million people had been forced from their homes by July, bringing the total number of internally displaced persons to 3.5 million.

After the takeover – the speed of which took many observers by surprise – the UN committed to staying in the country to help those affected by the deepening, ongoing, humanitarian crisis.

The IOM chief, António Vitorino, warned in November that ongoing conflict, grinding poverty and climate-related emergencies, have pushed the country to the brink of collapse.


Yulis Rivas draws a picture of her parents in the Friendly Space in Cucuta, Colombia, where UNICEF provides learning activities for migrant children and parents from Venezuela.

UNICEF/UN0304588/Arcos

Yulis Rivas draws a picture of her parents in the Friendly Space in Cucuta, Colombia, where UNICEF provides learning activities for migrant children and parents from Venezuela.

Unprecedented, forced migration in Central America

The amount of displacement in Mexico and Central America this year was described as “unprecedented” by UNHCR. Nearly one million people in the region left their homes due to a lack of opportunities, gangs, organized crime, the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change.

The incoming US administration signalled that it would adopt a compassionate attitude towards undocumented migrants and refugees entering across the southern border, but public health-related asylum restrictions remained in place, closing off ports of entry, and the US expelled hundreds of thousands of people to Mexico and other countries of origin.

Mexico itself has become a country of destination, as well as a nation of transit to the US, with around 100,000 asylum claims in 2021, a new record. In December, a horrific tragedy brought home the need for controlled, safe migration: when a crowded truck overturned in Chiapas, at least 54 reportedly Central American migrants died and more than 100 were injured – the single deadliest incident for migrants in Mexico since at least 2014, when IOM began documenting deaths.

Further south, Venezuela’s continuing socio-economic collapse was the source of the one of the largest displacement crises in the world. More than six million people have so far left their homes, and the needs of refugees and migrants from the country have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In December, UNHCR and IOM launched a joint appeal for $1.79 billion, to fund a regional plan to support the increasing needs of the refugees and migrants from Venezuela, and their host communities across 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

See our companion piece, ‘2021 Year in Review: UN support for countries in conflict’, here


Since 2014, 166 migrants have been recorded dead or missing in the English Channel

IOM/Hussein Ben Mosa

Since 2014, 166 migrants have been recorded dead or missing in the English Channel

The deadly waters of the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean Sea has, for many years, been a favoured route for migrants and refugees attempting to reach what they regard as a safe haven in Europe. However, the hazardous crossing became even more deadly this year, as European countries stepped up expulsions and pushbacks at land and sea borders.

In the first six months of the year, at least 1,140 died attempting to reach Europe by boat. Hundreds more died in the second half of the year, whilst trying to reach Europe from northern African States or Turkey. 

In just one incident in November, at least 27 people drowned in the English Channel, the largest single loss of life in the English Channel ever recorded by the IOM. According to the French authorities, well over 31,000 people attempted the dangerous crossing between France and the UK in 2021, and 7,800 were rescued at sea.


UNHCR is providing emergency aid to vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees affected by government security operations in Tripoli, Libya.

© UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem

UNHCR is providing emergency aid to vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees affected by government security operations in Tripoli, Libya.

Heavy-handed treatment in Libya

Many of those who attempt the crossing left from Libya, whose coast was the scene of fatal shipwrecks, including a January wreck in which 43 people died, and an April disaster which claimed the lives of 130 people, prompting the UN’s migration and refugee agencies to reiterate calls for the reactivation of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

Despite an improved peace and security situation, the country itself continued to pose dangers for refugees and migrants. The UN complained that they faced increasingly heavy-handed treatment from targeted security operations, resulting in at least one death and a steep increase in detentions.

In October, the UN refugee agency declared that the Libyan government must immediately address the dire situation of asylum-seekers and refugees in a humane manner, consistent with international human rights law.


Migrants stranded in harsh conditions on the Belarus-Poland border.

UNHCR Belarus

Migrants stranded in harsh conditions on the Belarus-Poland border.

Belarus border crisis

In September a crisis loomed on the border between Belarus and Poland. The EU reportedly accused Belarus of deliberately assisting migrants to cross the border into Poland illegally – a charge which Belarus denied – in reprisal against sanctions imposed by the bloc on the basis of alleged human rights violations amid huge protests following on from the disputed presidential election of 2020. 

A state of emergency took effect in areas of eastern Poland the same month, after thousands of migrants from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere tried to illegally cross into the country from Belarus.

In November, the UN called for an immediate de-escalation, following weeks of rising tension, and TV news footage showing migrants on the border between Belarus and Poland attempting to dodge teargas and make their way through razor wire.

As temperatures dropped, and several deaths were reported amongst the asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants stranded for weeks in increasingly dire conditions, the UN rights office urged both countries to resolve the crisis and respect human rights.


Refugees in Minawao, in northeastern Cameroon, plant trees in a region which has been deforested due to climate change and human activity.

© UNHCR/Xavier Bourgois

Refugees in Minawao, in northeastern Cameroon, plant trees in a region which has been deforested due to climate change and human activity.

The rising importance of the climate crisis

Whilst conflict looks set to continue to be a key driver of voluntary and forced displacement in the coming years, the changing climate is likely to play an increasingly important role. 

In fact, UNHCR data shows that, over the last decade, Weather-related crises have triggered more than twice as much displacement as conflict and violence: Since 2010, extreme weather has forced around 21.5 million people a year to move, on average.

And whilst Afghanistan’s conflict has been the focus of much attention, the country’s citizens also have to face numerous natural disasters: the country is one of the most disaster-prone in the world, with nearly all of its 34 provinces hit by at least one disaster in the past three decades.



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Airport workers put in extra hours during record travel numbers


TAMPA, Fla. — It’s the busiest travel day of the season and airport workers are putting in overtime to make sure people can get home for the holidays.

There will be a bunch of wheelchairs, feels like I’m working by myself sometimes, and I’m like doubling back, tripling back,” said Tampa airport contractor Anthony Sanders.

Tampa International Airport (TPA) expects 65-75,000 passengers to pass through each day during this holiday season, breaking pre-pandemic travel records. That’s just thousands of the 110 million people AAA predicts will travel across the U.S.

RELATED: Tampa International Airport reports record-breaking passenger numbers amid new COVID-19 surge

In fact, the airport is seeing passenger numbers 8-9% higher than the average of other airports across the country.

But when you look around, you see a lot of staff like Sanders working during the holidays.

Airlines took a hit during the pandemic and as people began traveling again, airports in general still haven’t been able to fully re-staff.

Sanders is a Tampa resident who is contracted by a company outside of TPA to assist elderly and handicapped passengers in wheelchairs. He was laid off for three months during the pandemic and with the cost of living in Tampa, he was facing homelessness, living out of hotels.

Now that he’s been back to work, he’s working overtime for the holidays — six days a week, eight or more hours a day and his pay is $6.98 an hour, so he relies on tips.

The minimum wage in Florida is $10 an hour, so similar to a restaurant employee, tips get him to the legal minimum wage.

“When I got rehired I mean, it was still like, you know, it wasn’t as busy as it is now. It was still like I wouldn’t you know, ‘cause I rely on my tip money and I wasn’t really — I was probably making maybe $30 a day in tips, and then, you know, we have to report our tips,” Sanders explained. “We weren’t making any money. I slept in hotels. It was very hard, very hard.”

Sanders will be working Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years, and his birthday on January 2.

We’re very short, we’re very understaffed, and we, you know, we do our best. I do my best. Every time I’m here, I do my best to assist people, I go beyond and above for the people here and they do, they do you know, they do appreciate you back,” Sanders said.

He is also part of SEIU 32BJ, a union advocating for airport workers to get higher wages and safer working conditions.

If you’re one of the millions of people flying this holiday season, remember two things: get there early and workers like Sanders, who rely on tips.





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US Travel Reacts To Sector’s Weak November Employment Numbers


A New York Times report released Friday, which breaks down data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Situation Summary, revealed that this past November saw a weaker-than-expected increase in hiring all around, but the Leisure & Hospitality sector was especially lagging.

Based on two separate surveys—one tracking hiring numbers among employers and the other polling households to see how many people were actually taking jobs—the government report offered a muddled picture of the nation’s economic outlook, as a new chapter of the pandemic begins to unfold.

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One thing that was clear is that the Leisure & Hospitality sector is still struggling in terms of recouping pre-pandemic employment levels. It had a pretty poor showing this November, adding only 23,000 jobs nationwide. Over the entire course of 2021, the industry has added back 2.4 million jobs, but employment in the sector is still down by 1.3 million (7.9 percent) since February 2020.

In reaction to the news, U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes issued the following statement:

“The latest jobs report—the worst for the Leisure & Hospitality sector since January—underscores the need for smart, effective policies, as well as stability in the inbound and business travel segments, to facilitate an even recovery.

“As more is learned about the Omicron variant, we must continue to welcome qualified global travelers from around the world, which will be critical to rebuilding the Leisure & Hospitality sector, as well as advance the safe recovery of business travel and professional events. Now is not the time to enact policies that stifle growth and dissuade inbound travel.

“Temporary tax credits to spur increased business travel and emergency funding for Brand USA, the United States’ destination marketing organization, will help boost travel spending and accelerate job growth.”





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EVV anticipating high holiday travel numbers


EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) – Perhaps no industry was hit harder by the pandemic than airlines.

Airports around the country are seeing a return to pre-pandemic air travel numbers this holiday season.

With health officials urging people to maintain social distancing, the number of flights in 2020 was less-than half of what it was the year before.

Evansville Regional Airport Executive Director Nate Hahn says airlines are expecting a big rebound this year.

“We’ve really come back from COVID in a lot of good ways,” Hahn said. “We’re about 75 to 80 percent of where we were in 2019, which was a banner year for us.”

Hahn says Allegiant Air and American Airlines add flights at EVV for Thanksgiving, which helps as the number of people flying goes up around holidays.

“The Thanksgiving holiday season is always the busiest travel time of the year,” Hahn said. “That Sunday is typically the busiest travel day of the year, and we expect that to continue this year.”

Hahn says a big day for EVV is around six or seven hundred passengers.

At bigger airports around the country, that number is much higher around the holidays, and passengers are already experiencing packed airports.

“I came from Denver, Colorado,” said Katie Kraft, who flew into Evansville Monday on a connecting flight from Chicago. “I got there at like 5:30 this morning and the line for security was literally out the door. There’s a lot of people traveling this year, especially compared to last year.”

“In Charlotte at the airport, it was like people were running stoplights,” said William Rideout, who flew in from Charlotte via Boston.

The busiest weekend for airlines doesn’t come without a cost; both a monetary cost and a commitment of time.

Kraft says she flew in early and is staying late due to the added costs.

“I’m trying to avoid the chaos and mainly just the prices. It was double to fly over the weekend as opposed to a Monday.”

Monday was a quiet day at EVV, but as the week goes on, officials say that will certainly change.

Due to the sudden resurgence of air travel this Thanksgiving weekend, Hahn encourages people to remain patient with airport staff.

Copyright 2021 WFIE. All rights reserved.



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MAG sees passenger numbers increase in October | News


Manchester Airports Group (MAG) airports served 2.7 million passengers in October, which represented 51 per cent of pre-pandemic traffic compared to the same month in October 2019.

These figures mark six months of sustained increases in the number of passengers travelling through MAG airports.

In May, the group only welcomed 260,000 passengers.

By contrast, October is the first month since February last year in which both Manchester and London Stansted airports have each served more than one million passengers.

The increase seen in October was boosted by the half term period and pent-up demand for international travel after more than a year of Covid-19-related disruption.

The number of passengers served in October was 22 per cent higher than in September following a further easing of restrictions on international travel on October 4th, which saw PCR tests on replaced by cheaper lateral flow requirements, alongside the removal of all remaining countries from the ‘red list’.

This positive trend is expected to continue in the lead up to the festive season. 

Leisure travel between the UK and the US resumed on November 8th in a significant moment for the revival of the aviation industry.





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Dubai Airports CEO on travel recovery, passenger numbers


The air travel industry is “not quite out of the woods” — but the future could be brighter than the last 20 months, says Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports.

“We have room for optimism that the future, hopefully, is much brighter than the last 20 months,” he told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Sunday at the Dubai Air Show, the first major international air show since the Covid pandemic began.

The city’s airports have seen 20.7 million passengers this year, a “far cry” from pre-pandemic levels, which may only be achieved in 2025, he said.

But there are signs of recovery as the world relaxes restrictions and major international traffic flows start up again, he said. Traffic numbers at Dubai International grew 40% in the last six weeks, he added.

Dubai Airports owns and manages Dubai International and Dubai World Central Airports in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai International alone served 86.4 million customers in 2019.

Passenger forecasts

By the end of this year, Griffiths expects Dubai Airports to see 26.7 million passengers. That figure could jump to 56 million or 57 million in 2022, he said.

The CEO said he’s cautiously optimistic that passenger numbers could be even better.

Emirates Airlines airplanes at Dubai International Airport on February 1, 2021.

Karim Sahib | AFP | Getty Images

If airlines and airports respond with a quality product, and good value for money, people are so desperate to get back in the air again, they will respond.

Paul Griffiths

Dubai Airports, CEO

Griffiths added that many people likely do not have the confidence to travel because of strict regulations, expensive Covid testing protocols and the fear of rules changing quickly.

“The last thing you want to do is embark on a journey and then get stuck somewhere having to quarantine,” he said, though he acknowledged that that is less of a risk now.

The economic situation — whether people have the disposable income to go on trips the way they used to — is another factor that will affect the recovery of the aviation sector, he said, but added that he is “fairly confident” about the demand.

“If airlines and airports respond with a quality product, and good value for money, people are so desperate to get back in the air again, they will respond,” he said. “We’re starting to see the green shoots of that already.”



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Holiday travel predicted to reach pre-pandemic numbers


This goes for all modes of travel whether you’re taking a train, a cruise, a plane or a car.

“We haven’t quite reached pre-pandemic levels but we did make a significant jump,” Meredith Mitts, Public Affairs Specialist with AAA Minnesota/Iowa, said.

Experts are saying to book your flights and rental cars as soon as you can if you have not already.

“The sooner the better is the case for all travel modes honestly at this point in time just because there are so many people traveling,” Mitts said.

For those traveling by car, those numbers are expected to grow by almost four million from 2020.

“That’s the highest growth rate for automotive travel since The Great Recession. What this means is that there are going to be a lot of people on the roads,” Mitts said.

She says a majority of travelers are going to be traveling by car.

Things are different this year. We now have a vaccine for COVID-19, even for our little ones.

“I think that has played a lot into consumer confidence and travelers confidence and then just the desire to be back with family and friends again is also a huge proponent,” Mitts said.

AAA is seeing a comfort level with people starting to travel again.



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