The migration of people from other continents – especially Africa and Asia – but also the Caribbean is a growing phenomenon in Latin America. And while most of them go first to the United States or Canada, many of them settle in a Latin American country, either by choice or by necessity because of the exhaustion of their resources, or following an expulsion procedure.
Why and how do extracontinental migrants arrive in Latin America?
Extracontinental migration in Latin America is a mixed flow, as migrants with different motivations converge within the same group. In some cases, especially among Sub-Saharan and Middle Eastern migrants, the main reasons are persecution and violence. While those who leave their country for economic reasons or due to natural disasters mainly come from countries in South Asia and Haiti. But there are other reasons for extracontinental migration, such as family reunification.
The arrival in Latin America is mainly explained by political factors, since, geographically, Europe would be a closer destination. But during the first decade of the twenty-first century, two notable phenomena occurred almost in parallel: the increase in entry restrictions to Europe and the easing of entry conditions into Latin America. In particular, some Latin American countries with leftist governments such as Argentina under Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), Ecuador under Rafael Correa (2007-2017) and Brazil under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003- 2010) relaxed their policies. policies, especially visas, and promoted an official discourse focused on the human rights of migrants. These openness measures, although temporary in most cases, have turned out to be attractive to the extracontinental migrant population. Once established, the flow of people from outside the region continued to increase.
The migratory routes go from south to north. They start in South America, where extracontinental migrants enter through countries with lower visa requirements, such as Ecuador or Brazil. They continue to Central America through the Darién region, a wooded and high-risk area between Colombia and Panama. Although there are no statistics similar to those of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, Darién is estimated to be one of the most dangerous migration routes in the world, as it is a thick jungle, with a hostile geography. and the presence of armed groups, which also interrupts the route of the Pan-American Highway. According to UNICEF, the number of children crossing the Darién has quintupled over the past five years.
Finally, migrants cross Central America and Mexico to the United States and Canada. This long and expensive journey is often done with the help of contacts, whether they are smugglers or other migrants knowing the route. It is also common to switch between land and sea means of transport, such as buses, passenger cars and boats, or to move on foot. The whole trip can take several months or even years.
What challenges do migrants face?
Along the way, migrants face a number of challenges, such as shipwrecks, health issues caused by exposure to extreme weather conditions and smuggling fraud along the way. In addition, overcrowding, hostility from the public authorities and the collapse of certain services in border areas further complicate the situation of migrants.
For example, between February and March 2021, hundreds of African and Haitian migrants fleeing the health and economic crisis in Brazil were trapped in the integration bridge on the border between Brazil and Peru. For several weeks, they were faced with hunger, inadequate hygiene conditions, hostile treatment by the police and the separation of some families.
However, at the end of July 2021, more than ten thousand African, Asian and Haitian migrants were stranded in the town of Necocli, in northern Colombia, waiting to be transported to Panama. Faced with the collapse of the city, overloaded with housing, water and cleaning services, the municipal government declared the state of public calamity.
The first obstacle that migrants from outside the continent face when they arrive in transit or destination countries is often the regularization of their stay. Irregular border crossings often close the door to subsequent regularization. And when they decide to apply for refugee status, the rate of favorable responses to their requests is often low.
In Argentina, for example, Venezuelans, Senegalese, Cubans, Haitians and Dominicans top the list in terms of the number of asylum applications. However, between 2016 and 2020, only 10 of the 1,267 applications from Haitians, 11 of the 885 applications from Cubans, and none of the 705 applications from Dominicans were approved.
Detentions and deportations in North America are the last major concern of migrants on the way. Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Eritrea were the top three African countries whose nationals were arrested in Mexico in 2018. And over the past five years, people from more than eighty African and Asian countries have arrested in the United States after entering the country. Countries of the United States through Mexico.
In addition, the living conditions in detention centers in Mexico are very questionable. Human rights organizations have denounced overcrowding, mistreatment and lack of medical care. An emblematic case was the death of Haitian migrant Maxene Andre at the Siglo 21 migrant detention center; Two years have passed since then and his body has not yet been returned to his family, and the circumstances of his death have not yet been fully clarified.
When migrants finally reach their destination or decide to settle in a transit country, even in cases where migration regularization is carried out, they face obstacles to their professional and social integration. Many find themselves in informal and seasonal jobs, like street vendors in tents and beaches in Argentina, or temporary contracts in factories in Brazil. In addition, they face language difficulties in the case of the non-Spanish speaking population and racial discrimination in the case of the African descent population.
In conclusion, it should be noted that this is a relatively poorly studied and difficult to measure process, as it often represents mixed and irregular migration flows, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. In this context, from a public policy perspective, it is necessary to understand not only the challenges that extracontinental migrants face in their transit processes, but also within host countries.
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