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Migrants and refugees in the Americas: a solidarity crisis

In Latin America, the crisis is evident in the reluctance by many states to implement inclusive refugee international standards and in restrictive migratory policies. Español

Jessica Ramírez
16 October 2018
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Source: IOM Migration trends. According to updated information based on oficial available sources (such as population statistics, migration records and estimates), the map shows the approximate Venezuelannmigrant stock in selected countries.

The world is currently dealing with the largest number of internationally displaced persons in history. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 68.5 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced from their countries and in Latin America the total of persons of interest for UNHCR was 8.826.832 people by the end of last year.

The dynamics of displacement are not new to the region. For decades, the continent has witnessed how we Latin Americans have been forced to leave our homes in order to save our lives and those of our families. However, ongoing displacement dynamics -such as migratory and refugee flows from Central America’s Northern Triangle- have increased in strength. Many Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans are risking their lives and safety to embark on a trip through Mexico and cross the border to the United States in order to flee poverty, lack of economic opportunities, and high levels of violence.

Latin America is experiencing new dynamics of forced displacement, many of which have developed at unprecedented speeds.

On the other hand, the region is experiencing new dynamics of forced displacement, many of which have developed at unprecedented speeds. In the last two years, we have witnessed a massive outpouring of Venezuelan nationals who have been forced to leave their country due to a breakdown in the rule of law, ongoing acts of State-sanctioned repression and violence, serious restrictions on freedom of expression, as well as food and medicinal shortages.

Likewise, a large number of Nicaraguan nationals have been forced to flee as a result of the large number of human rights violations that have taken place since the beginning of 2018 in the wake of Nicaragua´s repression of social protests.  

In light of this, last week, former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon narrated his own experience of displacement as a refugee to the New York Times and identified the global refugee crisis as "a true test to our collective conscience". He believes the world is experiencing a crisis of solidarity towards those forced to leave their homes.

The crisis is also evident in the creation of militarized borders, the criminalization of migration, the neglect of the most vulnerable, the separation of families and in the segregation and mistreatment of migrants and refugees.

In our region, this crisis is evident in the reluctance by many states to implement inclusive refugee international standards and in restrictive migratory policies, which have proven to be unable to stop the movement of people and forced them to opt for routes that increase their vulnerability. The crisis is evident in the mass deportations of migrants and refugees from some countries, in the xenophobia that has crept its way into political agendas and public discourse, turning it into part of our everyday life, in the creation of militarized borders, the criminalization of migration, the neglect of the most vulnerable, the separation of families and in the segregation and mistreatment of migrants and refugees.

Although migrants and refugees in Latin America have encountered great generosity both in transit and in their final destinations, violence and an overall lack of access to rights remains a serious concern. From the attacks on Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Brazil, the xenophobic rallies against Nicaraguan migrants and refugees held in Costa Rica, the massive deportations in Mexico and the possibility that Mexico will accept U.S.’ funds to carry out more deportations, these are just some examples of the serious human rights violations that are being carried out against migrants and refugees in Latin America.

It is unfortunate, because this is the same Latin America that gathered in Colombia over 30 years ago to enact the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees of 1984, where countries agreed to expand the definition of refugee, a definition that responds to the current forced displacement dynamics in Latin America.

It is also the same Latin America that has a long tradition of asylum, clear Inter-American standards of protection regarding the right to seek and receive asylum. The same Latin America that has demonstrated its political will to deepen the recognition of rights for migrant and refugee populations by subscribing multiple regional treaties in the subject.

The protection standards for the region abound, what is needed is a true will to use international law in responding to the migratory and refugee flows in order to assure them human dignity.

However, today some of the very same States that promoted an ampler definition of the term “refugee” are refusing to apply it to those persons with an unquestionable need for international protection. It is clear that the protection standards for the region abound, what is needed is a true will to use international law in responding to the migratory and refugee flows in order to assure that human dignity is the starting point in these responses.

As a legal fellow working at the Center for Justice and International Law and as a member of the human rights movement, we must continue to raise our voices, depoliticize the discussions regarding migrant and refugee flows, understanding that human rights violations do not discriminate between ideologies on the left or the right. It is imperative that we distance ourselves from discourses that divide us, to assume that a collective responsibility before these crises, which is inherently ours, and share it with all other stakeholders and to which we must respond with solidarity and with a human rights centered approach.

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