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Anitta Kynsilehto: Global mobilities in the context of Covid-19

Growing consciousness over increasing carbon footprint and the devastating consequences of excessive air travel have rendered annual holidays overseas and frequent weekend getaways to locations within shorter flights’ reach not as admirable as they were just a few years ago. This shaming has increased in the midst of mild relaxation of Covid-19 travel restrictions and fluctuating infection rates that vary radically between countries. These have peaked rapidly in locations that were doing much better with containing the pandemic just weeks before. In some countries, such as Greece, the increased rates are clearly connected with the loosening of travel restrictions. This poses a serious dilemma especially for those countries that rely on tourism as an important part of their national revenues. In these countries, economic activity has halted and will take a long time to get back to where the descent began, provided that international mobility doesn’t need to be stopped altogether again with devastating economic and social consequences. At their end, individual travellers need to decide, when choosing the destination, whether they may expose themselves and others to an increased risk of Covid-19 infection and perhaps transmitting the virus without being aware of it. Moreover, they need to consider if it is possible to stay quarantined for two weeks after the trip, which necessarily prolongs the time the travel will matter. 

Meanwhile, not all international travel is for the purposes of leisure only. The Covid-19 pandemic revealed the harsh consequences of the complete closure of borders and radically reduced international transport options for many transnational families that maintain their relations between different countries by visits as frequently as possible. Love is not tourism -campaign with the same hashtag has sought to call attention to the situation for transnational couples, many of whom have been unable to meet physically since the restrictions began to be implemented in mid-March 2020 onwards.

Above examples concern global mobilities that are in principle wanted ones: tourists and people in transnational intimate relationships who are usually able to cross international borders and travel to faraway locations. For these people, it came as a shocking experience that suddenly the privileges afforded by a strong passport no longer held, and that it became necessary to consider carefully if it was possible at all to cross international borders.

There continue to be the largest part of the global population, however, whose international mobility has been seen, from the perspective of states in the so-called Global North, as undesirable and problematic, perhaps a security threat. Not all these people aspire to move but those who do, may do so for multiple reasons: hoping to find work or continue their studies, to be reunited with their loved ones in faraway locations. Millions flee for their lives and seek to find a place where it would be possible to reorient one’s life again out of life-threatening danger; in safety. Unless part of the wealthiest population strata who can comply with the ever-tightening visa regulations, large-scale mobility of these people is not welcomed. In the context of the present pandemic, their situations have not got any better but worsened again, with serious infections spreading in refugee camps: in conditions where physical distancing and the possibility of maintaining hygienic regulations are just one dream among the many. Moreover, if they manage to find ways to get moving again, their presence is likely to be seen even more threatening than before the global health crisis, due to the mounting nationalism and xenophobic thought and action that have recreated themselves in novel ways over the past months, but whose prior ramifications are also as present as ever.