COVID-19, Civil Unrest Could Trigger Mass Migration in Post-Pandemic World

SYDNEY — Much of the world’s population has spent what’s felt like an eternity inside their homes these past few months. When the lockdown ends, however, one new study says that may change in a big and potentially permanent way.

Researchers from the University of Sydney suggest COVID-19 may be the latest global event which could trigger millions of people relocating around the world. The study says their scientific model shows mass migration is commonly triggered by epidemics, civil unrest, and wars. Between the coronavirus outbreak and fallout from the tragic killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, fed up Americans could certainly be seeking residence elsewhere.

“While many countries’ borders are now closed, making migration virtually impossible, a post-pandemic world might look very different,” says Professor Mikhail Prokopenko in a university release.

The authors point to significant, world-changing events as a major cause for people seeking to find a safer and more stable place to live, either temporarily or permanently. The study notes that the largest migration in Europe’s history took place at the end of World War II. Millions relocated and settled in Australia following the war’s end in 1945.

Wars and diseases may be the most dramatic triggers for seeking a new place to live, but they’re not the only ones. Prokopenko says even the constant stream of news about unsettling events can push people to consider leaving town.

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“Epidemics are examples of wider contagion phenomena which also include social segregation, ‘infodemics’ – waves of misinformation, and social unrest,” explains Prokopenko. “Our theoretical modelling suggested that, when faced with either threat or opportunity, people tend to avoid risks, seek an advantage, or both.”

The study, published in Scientific Reports, adds that more recent crises like the Syrian civil war and the Ebola virus outbreak in 2015-16 triggered similar migration events. Unlike Ebola, which affected a small portion of the world, researchers believe the global reach of COVID-19 will spark a wave of similar decisions among residents in many countries.

“We showed that large-scale collective behaviors, such as migration, can result from very small changes in human decision-making” says study author Nathan Harding.

Harding adds even minor re-assessments about your safety, your financial well-being, or your health can lead to a “tipping point” in terms of deciding to resettle somewhere else.

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