The number of migrants and asylum-seekers who reached Europe in 2020 is the lowest it has been in the past decade, according to a report by the United Nations migration agency. But deaths and disappearances on sea routes remain alarmingly high with only a small fraction of bodies recovered and victims identified.
Of the 93,000 people who entered Europe irregularly last year, roughly 92% did so via the Western, Central and Eastern Mediterranean Sea, as well as through the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands, often on unseaworthy boats.
The International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project has confirmed the death or disappearances of nearly 2,300 people last year. This number is higher than in 2019 and slightly lower than in 2018.
Ten years ago, protesters clamoring for political reform in Syria took to the streets, hoping for change. Instead, there has only been ruin and chaos.
The past decade has shattered the nation and scattered its people. More than half of the population was forced to flee.
“The United Nations stopped counting the dead in 2016 at 400,000. Six million Syrians fled their homeland, escaping across its borders into neighboring countries,” writes correspondent Liz Sly. “Five million are still stranded, barely surviving in substandard conditions. A million climbed into flimsy boats to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.”
Even as foreign humanitarian aid dwindles, millions still languish in limbo in countries bordering Syria, living on the margins of the societies hosting them but too afraid of the grim fate that may await should they try to return. And conditions are only getting worse. “Poverty and food insecurity are on the rise, school enrollment and access to health care are shrinking, and the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out much of the informal work that refugees rely on,” noted a recent report from the U.N.’s refugee agency. “People are at a breaking point,” said UNHCR senior communications adviser Rula Amin. While “the attention of the world has shifted from the Syria crisis and people tend to think that maybe it has become easier, with every passing year, it becomes more difficult, not easier for Syrian refugees.”
The richer members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) blocked a push by over 80 developing countries to waive patent rights in an effort to boost production of COVID-19 vaccines for poor nations.
South Africa and India renewed their bid to waive rules of the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement, a move that could allow generic or other manufacturers to make more vaccines. South Africa argued the current system does not work, pointing to the failure to secure life-saving medicines during the HIV/AIDS pandemic that had cost at least 11 million African lives.
The proposal was backed by dozens of largely developing countries at the WTO. Medecins Sans Frontieres in October had also put together a letter signed by over 375 civil society organizations supporting the waiver.
The proposal was opposed by Western countries, including Britain, Switzerland, EU nations and the United States, which have large domestic pharmaceutical industries.
In an industrial neighborhood on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s largest city lies a factory with gleaming new equipment imported from Germany, its immaculate hallways lined with hermetically sealed rooms. It is operating at just a quarter of its capacity. It is one of three factories that The Associated Press found on three continents whose owners say they could start producing hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccines on short notice if only they had the blueprints and technical know-how.
But that knowledge belongs to the large pharmaceutical companies who produce the first three vaccines authorized by countries including Britain, the European Union and the U.S.—Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
Across Africa and Southeast Asia, governments and aid groups, as well as the WHO, are calling on pharmaceutical companies to share this patent information more broadly to meet a yawning global shortfall in a pandemic that already has claimed nearly 2.5 million lives. Pharmaceutical companies that took taxpayer money from the U.S. or Europe to develop inoculations at unprecedented speed say they are negotiating contracts and exclusive licensing deals with producers on a case-by-case basis because they need to protect their intellectual property and ensure safety.
Critics say this piecemeal approach is just too slow at a time of urgent need to stop the virus before it mutates into even deadlier forms.