Is a comprehensive regional response to migration in the Americas possible? | Opinion

Migrant caravan travels to the United States through Veracruz (Mexico), on November 17.
Migrant caravan travels to the United States through Veracruz (Mexico), on November 17.CLAUDIO CRUZ (AFP)

I have just concluded a visit to four American countries, the first since I assumed my position as Deputy Director General for Management and Reform of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in September. The trip aimed to understand first-hand the migratory dynamics in the American continent.

I toured Bajo Chiquito, an indigenous community located in the Darién Gap (Panama); the city Tapachula, in southern Mexico; I went through Panama City, Bogotá, Washington and Mexico City to meet with senior officials from those countries. I also spoke with migrants and heard their stories and the risks they face on the routes.

In recent months, the number of people on the move in the Americas has increased significantly. While the majority come from Haiti, others are nationals of Cuba, Chile, Brazil and Venezuela. I also met many people from Asia and Africa.

The number alone is staggering. As of October, more than 120,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, have crossed the Colombian border with Panama and put their lives in danger in the Darien region. In Mexico, in 2021 the number of asylum seekers has tripled compared to the previous year and exceeds 110,000 requests from January to October. Since 2018 5.9 million Venezuelans have left their country to seek other horizons, in many cases towards the countries of the region.

Some migrants told me about the complicated journeys that put their lives at risk, others related how floods, hurricanes or droughts had wiped out their homes, their crops, and their livelihoods. And they were not lives of opulence, but quite the opposite, lives marked by vulnerability and uncertainty. It is clear that the time has come to address the causes of irregular migration in the Americas.

Across the region, border closures and economic difficulties as a result of the covid-19 pandemic have led to an increase in irregular migration in the last two years.

The time has come to align national responses with multilateral ones and to bet decisively on international cooperation. I realize that no country in the Americas can respond effectively alone to the challenges of human mobility, but they all have a role to play.

There are four key components that must be incorporated into a coordinated regional approach: first, humanitarian assistance for those most in need. Second, development through short-term investments in host communities that go beyond addressing the root causes of irregular or forced migration and that allow the strengthening of services that can benefit the entire population as a whole. Third, strengthening the asylum system and offering alternatives for regularization, including opportunities to migrate in a safe, orderly and regular manner, for example, for work or family reunification. And fourth, disseminate reliable information and crack down on traffickers and smugglers who exploit migrants.

Last July, the United States proposed two strategies, one for collaborative migration management and the other that addresses its root causes. However, it is necessary to create an appropriate political moment to promote them. Solving irregular migratory flows associated with poverty, violence, and inequality requires a response from sustainable and inclusive development, as well as strengthening resilience against environmental degradation exacerbated by climate change that causes displacement, and even more, because it is not enough to only care for an emergency or crisis.

There are some positive facts: the US has already proposed a comprehensive approach to managing migration; Colombia has offered Temporary Protected Status to people of Venezuelan origin; Mexico, with the help of the IOM and the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR), is considering alternatives for migratory regularization for Haitians in the country; and governments across the region are recognizing that they must cooperate to find opportunities, and not just react to crises. There are agreements such as the Global Compact on Migration to make human mobility a safer and more dignified process for people. The framework for an agreement exists within the Compact, now is the time to implement the principles and objectives in very concrete terms.

All countries must increase the availability and flexibility of regular migration routes, humanitarian or work-related visas, reduce vulnerabilities in migration, and manage borders in an integrated, secure and more humane way. Through a regional approach, we can address the most pressing humanitarian needs, and consider longer-term horizons to create more opportunities.

The pandemic has shown that unless we cooperate more closely, an alliance for safe, orderly, regular and dignified migration in the Americas will be impossible. The time to act is now.

Amy Pope is Deputy Director General for Management and Reform at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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