International Migrants Day 2021: still fighting the pandemic

This year, while celebrating migrants’ contributions to society, recognizing the hardships they face because of COVID-19 is just as important.

By Pierina D’Amico

Photo: World Refugee & Migration Council.

In 2000, December 18th was declared by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly as International Migrants Day.

Six years later, the 132 Member States that participated in the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development emphasized that, even though migration could contribute to development, it was not a substitute for it. Considering the amount of migrants that leave their countries out of necessity instead of choice, Heads of State concluded that international migration needed to be an integral part of the development agenda and should be part of national development strategies.

However, migrants all around the world still face hardships. In fact, they have been one of the most affected groups by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the World Migration Report 2022, published by the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), “Aside from health-related impacts, many became trapped in immobility and unemployment, without income support or other social protection. COVID-19 has led to large-scale stranding of migrant populations, with some experiencing destitution, detention and abuse.”

Reflecting on these issues is especially important in Canada, a country where permanent and non-permanent immigration accounted for over 80% of population growth in 2019 and the total number of international migrants reached 8.05 million in 2020.

Additionally, as shown by the World Migration Report 2022, Canada was the eighth destination for international migrants in 2020, and the second with the highest amount of resettled refugees (9,200, a sharp decline from the previous year’s 30,100 due to the pandemic).

Chart: UN IOM.

And these numbers are far from decreasing in the future, as Canada stays determined to reach its Immigration Levels Plan for 2023. Even considering the setback that COVID-19 meant, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) plans to compensate for previous years’ permanent residence invitation shortages by increasing its intake in 2022 and 2023.

In line with this, the last announced theme for International Migrants Day was “Reimagining Human Mobility”. It focused on the need to humanize migrants and find ways to protect them despite the difficulties in global mobility brought upon by COVID-19:

“The pandemic cannot be used as an excuse to rollback commitments to promote and protect the rights of migrants regardless of their legal status. […] People on the move hope for a brighter future. It is our collective responsibility to create a safer, more resilient world.”


Home – International Migrants Day, United Nations, No date specified

Background – International Migrants Day, United Nations, No date specified

World Migration Report 2022, UN IOM, 1 December 2021

2020 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, Government of Canada, 31 December 2019

Interactive World Migration Report 2022, UN IOM, No date specified

Canada landed almost 38,000 new immigrants in August 2021, CIC News, 6 October 2021

Displacement in Afghanistan: how should the international community respond?, World Refugee & Migration Council, 14 September 2021

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