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Migrant caravan in Mexico City. Photo: Wotancito/Wikimedia

Migrants in Central America: growing flow and the absence of regional strategies

02 October, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

On September 27, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) calls on the governments of Central America and Mexico to collaborate to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of migrants, as an unprecedented number of people transit through the region.

The agency notes that as of September 23, more than 390,000 people had completed this route. In August alone, 82,000 migrants crossed, the highest monthly figure ever recorded. Most of the migrants come from Venezuela, Ecuador and Haiti.

Some 4,100 migrants from Africa who crossed the Darien were also registered between January and July 2023 and, on the other hand, Honduras experienced a 553% increase in arrivals from African nations to reach 19,412 people across its southern border.

The situations that migrants must face are terrible: families that go hungry, serious health problems sleep on the street and they are forced to beg. Some are left on the road, injured, dead, many people are victims of sexual abuse, robberies, violence, among many other problems.

For example, Paso Canoas de Costa Rica, on the border with Panama, is a town with less than 20,000 people that has no possibility of receiving more than 60,000 migrants, only in the month of September.

State services are overwhelmed and therefore, the reality of overcrowding, lack of latrines and showers or accumulation of garbage, impacts any observer. Migrants wait for days sleeping on the street to be able to access a transport that takes them to the border with Nicaragua, to continue their way to the north.

Faced with this scenario, which is repeated in many other places, IOM calls on the governments of the region to dialogue and find long-term solutions to address the causes of these migrations and to improve people’s care.

Michele Klein Solomon, IOM Regional Director for Central America, North America and the Caribbean, said: “The situation highlights the urgent need for the immediate collective participation of the governments of countries of origin, transit and destination to provide humanitarian assistance, especially to vulnerable groups such as women and children.”

The appeal is correct, but its effective compliance is almost null because, if something is absent in Mesoamerica, it is the regional strategic vision that allows to assume, attend and seek to solve a topic that is essentially non-national.

Far from it, we see little action on the part of the Central American integration mechanisms nor the orderly functioning of bi or multinational cooperation to address these issues.

In addition, despite the fact that migrants are clearly victims who see their basic human rights as not being respected both in their places of origin and in those of transit (and probably also in those of destination), discourses, narratives and actions based on criminalization and punitivism against those who disrupt the established order continue to surface.

Thus, on September 26, the President of Costa Rica, Rodrigo Chaves, announced the declaration of a ”national emergency” to obtain more resources to strengthen the capacities of the institutions in charge of this issue.

However, when announcing the measure, the president noted that he was doing so by instructing the Ministry of Public Security “…to have a firm hand with those few people who think that the gentleness, kindness and generous heart of Costa Ricans can be confused with weakness.” He affirmed that those who arrive in Costa Rica and behave badly, disrespecting the authorities, causing riots, should return to their country of origin, because they will not be taken care of here.

Although in recent days there have been some incidents with migrants and the local police when they were trying to make street sales to generate some income, their actual or potential criminal nature does not seem to be the center of the problems they face nor of the demands of the neighbors of the border towns.

The president also made no express references to coordination or joint actions with neighboring countries to address the current situation, as suggested by the IOM communiqué.

It is also interesting to mention that almost at the same time, the Costa Rican Minister of Communication and the United Nations office in the country announced an alliance to design the first Latin American strategy against hate speech and discrimination.

It was announced that the strategy will be completed by the end of 2023 and will make it possible to determine responsibilities, create new monitoring and control mandates, and identify areas for action. In addition, it will offer solutions to stop this problem that has been multiplied exponentially by the digital world.

The initiative is based on the results of a study carried out starting in 2022 that concluded with alarming data: Between June 2022 and May 2023, more than 1.4 million malicious messages and conversations were detected on social networks, compared to the 937,000 detected in 2022, which represented a 50% increase in such manifestations. But if the figure is compared with that of 2021, the increase was 255%.

The research of the year 2022 allowed to define that the topics that most collect hate speech and discrimination are: politics and elections (350,000), sexual orientation (143,000), gender (125,000), xenophobia (112,000), generational clash (92,000), religion (53,000), racism (34,000) and disability (27,000).

Considering these findings, the presidential speech announcing the national emergency for migration reasons does not help much the announced strategy, which aims to build a more inclusive, more egalitarian and respectful society of diversity and the rights of all people.

A Costa Rica where no one is left behind. A region where no one is left behind.

Neither do migrants.