October 2021, Volume 27, Number 4
The UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was signed in August 1951 to protect persons fleeing Nazi and Soviet persecution, and was extended in 1967 to all persons fleeing their country of citizenship due to a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Signatory countries including the US promise not to refoul or return persons who arrive within their borders to persecution at home.
Asylum seekers or asylees arrive in a country and ask to be recognized as refugees and allowed to resettle as immigrants and eventually citizens. Refugees, on the other hand, are outside their countries of citizenship, and some are resettled in Canada, the US or other countries. Relatively few refugees are resettled each year, fewer than 250,000, while the number of asylum seekers is rising, topping one million in Germany and Sweden in 2015.
Asylum has become a major port of entry into richer countries, as foreigners arrive by land or sea and ask to be recognized as refugees. Host countries permit asylum seekers to apply for asylum and appeal a first finding that they do not qualify for refugee status, a procedure that can take several years. While applications and appeals are pending, asylees in Europe are provided with housing and food, and in the US with work permits. The US had 539 immigration judges in summer 2021 and a backlog of over 1.3 million immigration cases.
The most expandable category for claiming asylum is membership of a particular social group, which can include sexual orientation, gender, gang membership and medical conditions. The US defines victims of gang and domestic violence as members of a particular social group who can receive asylum.
Travel. Covid dominated headlines in summer 2021. European countries reopened to visitors and introduced vaccine passports to distinguish vaccinated from non-vaccinated people, a policy meant to encourage vaccinations and tourism. A wide range of European businesses are required to check incoming patrons to ensure that they have been vaccinated.
The travel industry shrank in 2020 and 2021, and may remain smaller in the future as the business travelers who account for a third of global airline revenue switch some travel to zoom to save money and to reduce the carbon emissions associated with travel.
Over 90 percent of the world’s trade moves via ship, a business that relies on migrant workers to generate $14 billion a year in revenue. Owners of older and smaller ships sometimes abandon unprofitable ships, stranding over 1,000 sailors without wages in Fall 2021. Some governments do not allow stranded sailors to disembark, while others hold sailors hostage to collect port fees. Unpaid sailors sometimes stay on board in order to receive back wages.