By Giovanna Ferullo M.
Panama City, Aug 1 (EFE).- Irregular migration flows are increasing dramatically in Central America and Mexico, and it is foreseeable that these flows will be augmented by hunger in Africa with a rising number of people from that continent coming to the region en route to the US, the general secretary for the International Red Cross, Nepal’s Jagan Chapagain, told EFE.
Central America for years has been a favored route to the US for migrants from all over the world, but at the same time the Northern Triangle – that is, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador – is the starting place for thousands of migrants who are seeking the “American Dream.”
After 2021, when an historic figure of more than 133,000 migrants passed through Panama, this year illegal migration has increased by about 85 percent in this country, which is the entry point into Central America via the dangerous Darien jungle, on the border with Colombia.
In Honduras, irregular migration has grown this year by 689 percent and in Mexico by 108 percent, according to official figures cited by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
The majority of the migrants and refugees in transit come from Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti. Citizens of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico also continue to leave their countries and head “north” while at the same time a significant rise in returnees is also being registered.
The flow is increasing dramatically in the region within a framework featuring a “combination of problems,” including poverty, lack of security due to internal conflicts or violence, natural disasters and now the “devastating impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which has given rise to a significant movement of people around the world, Chapagain said in an interview with EFE in Panama.
In that context, he spoke of the food crisis in Africa, which is also facing extreme climate events leading to the loss of crops in recent years and now, due to the Ukraine conflict, sees itself threatened by a scarcity of grain.
This makes the hunger crisis have a massive impact, which makes one think that human migration could increase, he said, with migrants’ primary route being toward Europe but also into Central America on their way to North America.
Chapagain on the weekend visited a migrant reception station in Panama’s Darien province, one of the government installations where migrants crossing through the dangerous border jungle can receive medical attention and food.
He said that the Red Cross is seeing people desperate to get help, many injured people and others who need healthcare and hygiene items. The IFRC is also seeing girls who have been sexually abused in the jungle and is hearing that this is a very frequent occurrence.
Migrants are even dying in the jungle, he said, and this makes it crucial to provide people in transit with “predictable” frameworks to reduce the risk that they will use irregular channels where they can be “abused and exploited.” These matters can be politically sensitive, he added, but providing regular migration channels can alleviate much suffering.
He also said that it is extremely important to depoliticize the humanitarian assistance and to decriminalize it.
Chapagain also emphasized that the IFRC is on hand in the countries of origin of the migrants and it can also provide humanitarian assistance all along their route.
In a context where it is “inevitable” that migration will continue to increase, the IFRC has issued an emergency call for $29.2 million in funding to help 210,000 migrants in Central America and Mexico over the next 12 months.
The support will be provided via the Red Cross’s network of 20 Humanitarian Service Points in Central America and Mexico, these being neutral and safe spaces – whether fixed or mobile – where migrants can receive healthcare and mental health assistance, information and other services, according to the IFRC.
The Red Cross response will prioritize providing attention of this kind all along the migrant routes, where the majority of people in transit encounter bureaucratic barriers, hostile climates, stigmatization, discrimination, violence, lack of security and even death, the IFRC official said.
Chapagain said that when we speak of migration, it’s vital that we understand that the people we call migrants are just “people” who have decided to move to another country, and when they do all actors – governments, civil society, communities, humanitarian organizations – should treat them as human beings and provide humanitarian assistance to them.