By Claudia Polanco Yermanos
Bogota, Dec 15 (EFE).- Migrants desperate to escape violence, crime and poverty are constantly on the move in the Americas, willing to leave their homelands behind, facing the challenges of discrimination and marginalization and even potentially putting their lives in jeopardy.
Significant migratory flows in that part of the world are a reality that dates back many decades, yet only recently has this phenomenon attracted major media attention and earned a prominent place on the region’s political, economic and social agenda.
“In recent years, migration in the Americas has ceased to be invisible and become a situation similar to what African or Syrian migrants have in Europe,” German Casas, president of Doctors Without Borders in Latin America, told Efe.
However, there are key differences.
Whereas in Africa and the Middle East, migrants relocate from low-income countries to affluent Europe, those journeys in Latin America often involve moving from one poverty scenario to another, since only a small minority manage to reach the United States or Canada.
Casas, who is well aware of the problems facing those escaping intolerable conditions in Haiti, Honduras, Mexico and Colombia, says that “Latin America has become a giant corridor filled with migrants whose common denominator is they’re fleeing violence.”
Threats from guerrilla or paramilitary groups force people to flee Colombia, while common crime, gangs and drug trafficking organizations are major triggers of migratory flows from Venezuela, Central America and Mexico, respectively.
In all of these places, a common enemy – poverty – also prompts people to leave their homelands behind in search of a better life.
According to the International Organization for Migration, there were an estimated 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, equivalent to 3.6 percent of the global population. Of them, 59 million (21 percent of the total) were in North America and 14.8 million (5 percent) were in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The flow of migrants to the US has surged this year after a slowdown due to pandemic-triggered mobility restrictions in 2020, especially after the Labor Department announced that job openings in June had reached a record of more than 10 million.
Between January and October 2021, Mexico detained 228,115 migrants and deported 82,627 others, figures not seen in 15 years.
Those numbers make it more difficult to manage the flows and lead to more migrants being placed in life-threatening situations.
President Joe Biden’s announcement earlier this month that he would heed a court order and reluctantly resume predecessor Donald Trump’s controversial “Stay in Mexico” program, a policy that forces foreigners to remain in that country while their asylum claims are processed in the US, has sparked particular concern for the safety of many Central American migrants.
That program has left more than 70,000 people stranded for months in dangerous areas of Mexico’s border with the US.
Farther south, thousands of migrants – many of them Haitians who had been living in Brazil or Chile but were left without work amid the pandemic, but also Venezuelans, Cubans, Africans, Ecuadorians and Colombians driven into severe poverty by the Covid-19 crisis – have been moving through the region seeking to reach the United States.
In the first 10 months of this year, an estimated 90,000 people attempted to make the overland crossing from the northern Colombian town of Acandi to Panama via the inhospitable, road-less Darien Gap, a 60-mile stretch of dense jungle whose dangers include a criminal gang known as the Clan del Golfo, turbulent rivers, rugged hills and deadly wild animals.
At least 50 of them died en route during that period.
Along with Haiti, Venezuela is proportionally the biggest source country for migrants. A country hard hit by US sanctions, hyperinflation, dire poverty for those without access to dollars and elevated levels of violent crime, it saw the exodus of more than 4 million people between 2015 and 2020.
The Organization of American States warned late last year that Venezuela’s outflow of refugees and migrants could reach 7 million people by the start of 2022 and thereby exceed the exodus of 6.7 million Syrians who have fled that war-torn country in recent years.