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2018: A Year of Reporting Deeply on Refugees and Migration

As we near the end of another eventful year for refugees and migration policy, our editors select 2018’s best stories and commentary on Refugees Deeply.

Written by Charlotte Alfred, Daniel Howden, Tania Karas Published on Read time Approx. 5 minutes
Venezuelan citizens cross the Simon Bolivar International Bridge from San Antonio del Tachira in Venezuela to the Norte de Santander province of Colombia.GEORGE CASTELLANOS/AFP/Getty Images

In 2018, the world’s displaced population reached 68.5 million, including more than 25 million refugees – numbers that have soared since Refugees Deeply launched nearly three years ago.

This was the year asylum policies tightened across the globe as wealthier nations in the grip of right-wing populism took unprecedented steps to deter refugees and migrants. And it was the year the effects of harsh policies on the most vulnerable migrants – particularly children – came into focus in the United States and Australia, prompting officials to partially reverse course after public outcries.

It was the year humanitarian groups and individual volunteers were arrested, criminalized and harassed into ending their work to help people on the move. It was the year the world spoke seriously of large-scale refugee returns – of Syrians, Rohingya, Congolese and Afghans – often as human-rights and aid groups warned that such plans were premature. Meanwhile, a glance at media headlines made it seem as if the world’s worst refugee crises were happening in the United States and Europe – but those crises were often political and manufactured by nations themselves. In reality, countries such as Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic saw far larger flows of newly displaced people. The developing world still hosts 85 percent of the world’s refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

Finally, 2018 was the year the world came together and adopted two global compacts, one on refugees and one on migration. While not without controversy, their adoption is a minor miracle in the current political climate. It remains to be seen whether they’ll bring about real change – and who will benefit most.

Here is some of our best reporting and commentary from this year, as selected by our editors.

Editors’ Picks: Reporting

Returning to Syria is both an excruciating personal decision and a political calculation: by refugees, the government in Syria and other nations with a stake in the war. Refugees Deeply editor at large Charlotte Alfred examines how staying in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey is often risky, too.

Refugees Deeply editor at large Daniel Howden and journalist Giacomo Zandonini examine how Niger, the world’s second-poorest country, became the “southern border of Europe” in the European Union’s effort to deter African migrants.

Newlyweds Oudai and Alaa fled the war in Syria together and started a family in Jordan. Then Oudai traveled to Germany alone, hoping to bring his family a few months later. The couple kept a diary detailing their separation, from Syria to Jordan to Germany.

Daniel Howden and Metin Kodalak look at how traumatized Afghan child soldiers who were forced to fight in Syria struggle to find protection in Europe’s “asylum lottery.”

The oil-rich Gulf states depend on the labor of millions of migrant domestic workers. In this piece for Women’s Advancement Deeply, journalist Sophie Cousins examines how the chance of a better life for their own families comes with the risk of exploitation, abuse and even slavery.

A Refugees Deeply investigation by Mat Nashed finds Egyptian security targeting a list of critics of the Khartoum regime. Sudanese refugees, afraid to approach the U.N. and with resettlement abroad out of reach, are left with little international protection.

An investigation from Sudan finds an illicit trade in Sudanese passports for Syrian refugees, overseen by a powerful individual known as “the Shark.”

Journalist Francesca Mannocchi finds increasing numbers of Libyans are breaking a long-standing taboo and fleeing across the Mediterranean. Four Libyans explain why seven years after the revolution they must find a way out even if it means using smugglers.

Editors’ Picks: Community

The U.N. refugee agency lacks the funding, political clout and independence to protect refugees in the way that it is supposed to, says former UNHCR official and refugee policy expert Jeff Crisp.

As the world finalized the Global Compact for Migration, Marta Foresti of the Overseas Development Institute explained the political significance of reaching an international agreement on migration that many saw as an impossible gamble in an age of xenophobia and nationalism.

We don’t accept all-male panels on women’s issues, so why do we still discuss refugee policy without refugees, asks entrepreneur Sana Mustafa. Beyond tokenistic inclusion of refugee stories, she argues that meaningful participation requires major institutional shifts.

What happens when refugees lead policy development? This series profiles leaders who have a refugee background and who today are shaping policies on refugees and migration, whether in political office or as leaders of communities and organizations around the world.

The detente with Ethiopia has seen Eritrea slash indefinite military conscription. Researcher Cristiano D’Orsi argues that without a breakthrough on human rights, Eritreans will still flee.

Europe’s aggressive migration policy has seen Italy dive into the obscure world of national shipping flags to sabotage rescue missions. Researcher Hannah Markay argues that such moves undermine the international legal requirement to save human lives at sea.

Canada is rapidly expanding the use of AI in its immigration service. Rights advocates Petra Molnar and Samer Muscati pick apart experiments that will be copied around the world.

Governments’ political orientation does not determine whether they pursue more or less restrictive migration policies. New research from Katharina Natter and Hein de Haas debunks accepted wisdom on the politics of migration.

Images of refugees are dominated by boats and camps, shaping public perceptions of the lives of the displaced through the narrow lens of drama and victimhood. This series explores both the constraints and ideas to widen the lens.

Spain’s migration control policies in North Africa dating back over a decade are now replicated across the E.U. Gonzalo Fanjul outlines PorCausa’s investigation into Spain’s migration control industry and its warning signs for the rest of Europe.

The stories we tell are as important as the funding we commit, says Ana Uzelac of the Clingendael Institute. In Lebanon, she explains, erroneous narratives about refugees limit the capacity of donor funding to improve refugees’ well-being in the country.

In response to a recent proposal on how Italy can combine effective migration control with human rights, policy expert Giulia Lagana argues that the plan lacks the very political realism that it accuses the human rights community of neglecting.

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