Timeline: 'He wanted to die rather than go back': a year of migration

·5 min read
FILE PHOTO: Asylum-seekers in the U.S. return to Mexican side of the border, in Ciudad Acuna

(Reuters) - Cold, hunger and danger. These are the conditions people face when they flee their countries, often risking their lives to escape circumstances ranging from poverty to war.

About 4.2 million people were reported as stateless at the end of last year, although the true global figure is estimated to be significantly higher, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Between 2018 and 2020, an average of between 290,000 and 340,000 children per year were born into a refugee life.

Below is an overview of some of the struggles people leaving their homelands have faced this year so far.

JANUARY

* In Bosnia, dozens of people, some fleeing conflict in Afghanistan, shelter in abandoned buildings in and around the northwestern town of Bihac. They wrap up as best they can against snow and frost as they queue to reach European Union-member Croatia across the border.

* Thousands of Hondurans, including many families with children, cross the border at El Florido to Guatemala, hoping to reach the United States. Skirmishes break out at the border and Guatemalan authorities use sticks and tear gas to beat back people fleeing poverty and violence in their homeland.

FEBRUARY

* Spanish police in the North African enclave of Melilla rescue people hiding in waste containers, including one inside a plastic bag full of toxic ash, as they try to make their way to the Spanish mainland.

* German NGO ship Sea-Watch rescues more than 360 people from dinghies off the Libyan coast. The central Mediterranean migration route from Sub-Saharan Africa to Italy is known as one of the world's deadliest.

MARCH

* Deteriorating security and economic conditions in Mexico and the Northern Triangle - Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador - has led to the biggest rise in the number of migrants at the United States' southwestern border in 20 years, with President Joe Biden's administration racing to handle an influx of children trying to cross the border alone.

MAY

* Spain deploys troops to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in northern Africa to patrol the border with Morocco after around 8,000 people enter the North African enclave by swimming in or climbing over the fence.

Spanish soldier, Rachid Mohamed, talks to a boy who is using plastic bottles to stay afloat and swim across to El Tarajal beach from Morocco. "He preferred to die, I have never heard someone as young as that boy say that, that he wanted to die rather than go back to Morocco," the solder said.

Around two-thirds of the people who made it to Ceuta, including unaccompanied children, are expelled by the Spanish authorities, but many say they will try again to reach Europe.

JUNE

* Thousands of Belarusians escaping a political crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko have fled to neighbouring Poland, where nearly 10,000 have applied for humanitarian visas or asylum in the past year.

* Rescue organisations operating in the Mediterranean call for an end to people being handed over to the Libyan authorities due to reports of ill treatment.

* More than 40 Africans are rescued, while four die, after their boat ran aground on the coast of Lanzarote in Spain's Canary Islands, while more than 100 people make it safely to other islands.

A total of 8,222 people arrived in the Canaries illegally between January 1 and August 15, more than double from the same period of last year, according to Interior Ministry data.

JULY

* Lithuania accuses Belarus of flying in would-be migrants and asylum-seekers from abroad to send to the European Union and begins building a 550-km (320-mile) razor wire barrier on the border to prevent them crossing illegally.

Belarus decided to allow migrants to cross into EU member Lithuania in response to sanctions imposed by the bloc.

* Afghans who manage to make the weeks-long journey through Iran on foot to the Turkish border face a three-metre high wall, ditches or barbed wire as Turkish authorities step up efforts to block any refugee influx into the country.

* Turkey detains nearly 1,500 people near the Iranian border in just a week amid rising violence in Afghanistan.

* France and Britain agree to deploy more police and invest in detection technology on the French coast to try to stop boats packed with people making the perilous voyage across the English Channel.

"It was a way of dying," Abdullah Al Badri, an asylum seeker from Kuwait, told Reuters in London when describing how it felt getting onto a boat. "You say 'okay', it's the last point, I'm going to try (at risk of) my life."

AUGUST

* Greece completes a 40-km fence, guarded by soldiers carrying rifles and equipped with hi-tech monitoring system, on its border with Turkey to stop possible asylum seekers from trying to reach Europe after the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.

* Afghan migrants stranded in Serbia watch in dismay as the Islamist militants take over back home. According to authorities, there are around 4,500 migrants in government-operated camps across Serbia, 1,200 of them from Afghanistan.

* A ship carrying 257 people, mainly men from Morocco, Bangladesh, Egypt and Syria rescued from international waters off Tunisia, docks in the Italian port of Trapani accompanied by applause from those onboard.

SEPTEMBER

* Britain approves plans to turn away boats illegally carrying people to its shores, deepening a diplomatic rift with France over how to deal with a rise of people trying to cross the Channel in small dinghies.

* More than 10,000 mostly Haitian people live in a squalid camp under a bridge in southern Texas even as hundreds more head toward the border in a growing humanitarian and political challenge for U.S. President Joe Biden.

The Haitians are joined by Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans under the Del Rio International Bridge across the Rio Grande connecting Ciudad Acuña in Mexico to Del Rio, Texas. They sleep under light blankets, while a few have pitched small tents.

(Compiled by Juliette Portala, Anna Rzhevkina, Veronica Snoj and Milla Nissi; Edited by Philippa Fletcher)

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