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Intraregional migration in Latin America - Statistics & Facts

Human mobility has been a constant phenomenon in Latin America and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, regional integration and cheaper transportation have made migration easier in recent decades. Endemic violence, environmental disasters, and lack of economic opportunities have pushed millions of people to seek a better future in neighboring countries, making intraregional migration an increasingly common option. In 2020, there were around 42.9 million migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean around the world, 11.3 million of which were hosted within the region.

Unfortunately, legal migration is not an option for many people. The Darien Gap and the Caribbean Sea are some of the most popular migration routes, but also deadliest routes used by irregular migrants. Another event that has become noteworthy in recent years is Central American migrant caravans, a large exodus of people which travel mostly by foot from Central America to North America, gathering more migrants along the way. While many seek to enter the United States, a large share of migrants from the Northern Triangle has Mexico as their final destination or end up stranded at the Mexico-U.S. border. All things considered, intraregional migration in Latin America and the Caribbean is a very complex, multifaceted issue.

The Venezuelan refugee crisis

During the last years, Venezuela has been suffering from alarming levels of poverty, persistent food shortages, skyrocketing hyperinflation, and widespread violence. The combination of humanitarian crisis, political turmoil, and economic havoc has led to more than five million Venezuelans to flee their home country in what is known as the Venezuelan refugee and migrant crisis, the largest refugee crisis ever recorded in the Americas. Most Venezuelans have opted to remain in Latin America, migrating to neighboring countries. Colombia, Peru, and Chile alone have become home to nearly two thirds of the Venezuelan diaspora.

Most frequently, Venezuelan emigrants have a temporary residents permit or are in an irregular situation. Despite the large amount of applications from asylum seekers, not many are granted refugee status. In Peru, for example, about 482,500 Venezuelans presented an application for asylum in 2019 and another 1,230 were granted refugee status, while in Brazil there were almost 103,700 asylum applications and nearly 21,000 recognized as refugees under the UNHCR's mandate. Local institutions are often overwhelmed by the large amount of immigrants and struggle to attend to their needs. As a results, on occasion refugees have found themselves in extremely precarious situations, forced to occupy public spaces or live on the street.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has not spared Latin America and the Caribbean, nor has it put a halt to human mobility in the region. It has, however, had a notable effect on it. To begin with, temporary restrictions to freedom of movement between national and international borders meant that migrants experienced increased difficulty moving around both inside and between countries. Other problems which emerged as a result of the pandemic are the loss of financial support from the family, reduced access to formal and informal work, homelessness, food insecurity, or growing xenophobia.

Moreover, not only did the need for smugglers increase, but so did their fees. Irregular migration in Latin America and the Caribbean has always entailed great levels of risk: at least 5,695 persons are known to have lost their lives or gone missing in the Americas trying to migrate since 2014. Such risk could have increased with the pandemic, as smugglers are believed to have started using more dangerous routes.

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