According to specialists, South America constitutes an “almost perfect” regional migratory space, insofar as its migrants are, overwhelmingly, from the same region. The subcontinent is known for its cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity, thanks both to the multi-millennial indigenous heritage and to the progressive migratory contributions from all corners of the planet. In this context, human mobility in general and transnational migrations in particular are a real machine for the diversification / integration of populations and cultures of the world.
The growth of intra-regional migration
Diversification takes place from the local perspective, of the host society. And integration takes place at the regional level, due to the increase and consolidation of material and symbolic exchanges between societies and neighboring or nearby countries. A fact of great relevance if we consider that one of the main changes that have occurred in the contemporary transnational migratory landscape is the regional reorientation of its flows.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), today the volume of South-South migration is already greater than that of South-North migration. Of the 258 million migrants registered worldwide in 2017, around 100 million (almost 40% of this total) migrated from one country in the South to another country in the South, compared to only 86 million (i.e. a little over 30%) of those who migrated from the South to the North. In this scenario, the South American example is one of the most emblematic.
The legacy of regional integration processes
South America has a population of nearly 430 million people; representing 65% of the Latin American population and 42% of the inhabitants of the Americas. According to the UN, at the social and political level, South America continues to face the challenges of social inequality and the lack of regional political and economic coordination.
These challenges are especially evident if we consider the generalized crisis that the main regional organizations are going through: the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) in an advanced process of disintegration; the Andean Community (CAN) is practically paralyzed; and the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) struggling for its survival.
However, it must be recognized that the three institutions have the merit of developing immigration policies imbued with the universal principles of human rights and the ideals of equality and social justice.
According to the study “Hacia el Sur. The construction of the super-American citizenship and intraregional mobility ”, these policies sketched the bases of a progressive regional integration which would guarantee to the citizens of the subcontinent the right to free transit, to residence in any of the member countries. countries of these countries, organizations, social and labor rights equal to those of nationals of the host country, simplification and standardization of documents, legal and administrative formalities and procedures.
In practice, the region’s slavery and colonial past, the rigidity of its social, class and ethnic hierarchies, nationalism, xenophobia, institutional racism end up hampering the implementation and realization of the ideal of a South American citizenship.
It also happens because of ignorance of agreements and the rights that flow from them, both on the part of citizens and, sometimes, of state officials themselves.
An “almost perfect” regional migratory space
Intra-regional migration is a very new experience for South America. Until the mid-twentieth century, the subcontinent was better known as a destination for international immigrants, mostly Europeans. In a second step, the trend is reversed and South America becomes a region of emigration mainly to North America and Europe.
However, if emigration continues to be a structuring reality in the social landscape of all the countries of South America, from the end of the last century, these migrations become more and more intraregional, initially benefiting the economy. ‘Argentina, Chile and Venezuela, before the flows began to diversify. to include Brazil and other countries in the region.
These populations seek better living conditions, as in the case of Bolivians who migrate to Argentina and Brazil to work in sectors such as the textile industry, or Colombians who seek international protection due to violence and conflict. armed forces that have affected the country for more than half a century.
According to IOM, in 2015 the region had around 5 million immigrants compared to tens of millions of emigrants. Between 2010 and 2015, in addition to registering a gradual and considerable increase in migration exceeding 10%, it should be noted that 70% of the contingent of immigrants present in the subcontinent was made up of nationals from the same region.
However, to better assess this spectacular growth, one cannot ignore the current number of Venezuelan citizens who are leaving their homeland due to the social and political crisis in the country. A volume which, according to UNHCR and IOM projections, must have reached 6.4 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees in 2020.
Thus, if in a very conservative projection, we estimate that at least 2/3 of the Venezuelan migrant population will remain in the region, we can deduce that intraregional migrations in South America must, in time, reach a volume that is approaching. 8 million people.
And even considering that in 2015 Venezuela was home to over 1.5 million migrants, mostly intraregional, some of whom may have left the country, it is still acceptable to maintain the estimate of over 7 million intraregional migrants in the region. subcontinent. This represents about 90% of all migration that takes place in South America.
In any case, it is not the figures themselves that interest us, but the fact observed by studies such as “Radiography of flows” (2020), that South America would be an “almost perfect” regional migratory space. Thus, more than the quantity and density of the flows, it is necessary to underline their human and cultural importance.
In a relatively young region still in the process of social and cultural formation, it is necessary to pay particular attention to the phenomenon of intraregional migration as a factor of production of a South American identity and vector of regional integration from the bottom up.
If, as we have seen, the main interstate institutions in the region have not shown sufficient strength to accelerate this process of integration, one cannot deny that one of their main legacies: the agreement of residence and free passage (instituted by Mercosur), proves that there is only a real demand for human mobility in the region, but as the Agreement is rooted in the social imagination of the region, more this integration will happen naturally.