The situation in Venezuela, coupled with heightened vulnerabilities in host countries throughout the region brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, led refugees and migrants to continue to embark on dangerous journeys in search of safety and better opportunities. 2021 saw an increase in onward movements of refugees and migrants from countries where they had previously resided but faced challenges to meet their basic needs, secure livelihoods and integrate locally. The economic downturn, health crisis, and volatile socio-political environments – including increasing levels of xenophobia and discrimination – resulted in more refugees and migrants from Venezuela searching for solutions and protection in countries such as the United States, and both transiting through – and remaining in –Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico en route. A total of 2,819 Venezuelans crossed through the Darien Gap land border between Colombia and Panama in 2021, a 3,700 per cent increase from 2017, when only 76 Venezuelans used this route. Most continued their transit northward through Central America and Mexico, despite the protection risks faced along the way, including gender-based violence (GBV), human trafficking and smuggling, kidnapping and extortion.
In Panama, Executive Decree 235 was introduced in September 2021, which established new fees for status regularization processes, a challenge for many to afford the corresponding procedures due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, Executive Decree No. 1316 of 10 December 2019 (allowing the use of expired Venezuelan passports for migratory and other administrative procedures) expired in December 2021, leaving Venezuelans with inadequate documentation and limited access to rights and procedures. In Costa Rica, the Complementary Protection Category for Venezuelans was modified through resolution No. DJUR-0133- 07-2021-JM to include Venezuelans who have “physically and continuously remained in the national territory” from 1 January 2010 to 18 March 2020, and also extended the reception period until February 2022. A total of 1,031 Venezuelans were granted two-year residency permits and work rights in 2021. In Mexico, the authorities registered an increase in new asylum claims from Venezuelans (6,220 compared to 3,342 in 2020) while there was also an increase in Venezuelans entering irregularly though the border with Guatemala and arriving regularly by plane, and traveling north to the border with the United States (which reached a total of 106,755 “encounters” with Venezuelans attempting to enter the United States via the land border with Mexico in 2021).