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Americas Region: Population Movement (MDR42004) Emergency Appeal 18-month Operation Update

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A. SITUATION ANALYSIS

Description of the emergency

In recent months, population movement has continued to increase in the Americas region. The number of Venezuelans living in Latin American countries rose to over 4 million by the beginning of 2020 and has reached over 4.3 million as of early April.2 In addition to migrants from Venezuela settling throughout the region, some countries in the Americas receive significant numbers of extra-regional migrants from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. While some settle permanently in the region, many others choose to travel north, crossing from Colombia into Panama through the Darien Gap on their way to North America.

A series of changes to visa requirements in the region in recent years have demonstrated the impact that such government-level policy decisions can have on migrant communities and host communities. More restrictive or burdensome visa requirements for Venezuelans in Ecuador and Peru, for example, led to temporary but significant increases in the number of migrants crossing through border points in those countries. With the announcement of new requirements, the daily numbers of Venezuelans registered leaving a country for another destination with more lenient policies increased by thousands of people in some cases.3 Tightened visa requirements may also lead to increased irregular migration, as migrants choose to circumvent established border points, often without proper documentation, in order to avoid the lengthy and expensive naturalization processes that would otherwise be required of them. The social context in the region also experienced a number of significant changes in recent months that had an impact on migrant communities. Starting in late 2019, civil unrest in countries such as Chile, Ecuador and Peru led a number of migrants to consider relocating or returning to their country of origin.

The first COVID-19 cases appeared in Latin America in February 2020 and, as of late March, the virus has spread to nearly every country in the Americas. Though the long-lasting impacts of the pandemic on the migration context in the Americas remains to be seen, the spread of the virus is likely to exacerbate the migrant populations’ already vulnerable position in the region. Refugees and migrants in the Americas are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and other diseases due to high geographic mobility, instability, informal or precarious income, overcrowding, lack of sanitation, language barriers and lack of access to decent health care or vaccination programmes, among others.4 Moreover, it is expected that migrants will be especially affected by the border closure measures that many countries are taking to prevent the outbreak of the virus. Despite these tightened restrictions, the flow of migration in the Americas has not ceased, indicating that many are choosing to migrate irregularly and face the associated difficulties, risks and protection issues. Also, some may express the will to return and many of them has already returned to their homes and countries of origin. from different countries experiencing difficulties and vulnerabilities in host countries, where there are already feelings of xenophobia and discrimination towards people under situations of human mobility, an increase in stigmatization and in the exclusion of the population is expected with the spread of the virus. Indeed, refugees and migrants are often the first to be stigmatized and, eventually, unfairly blamed for the spread of diseases. In this changing context, it is important that, while heeding security and protection measures, people in vulnerable situations continue being supported, so as to ensure their rights and protect their dignity.

Below is a brief description of the migration context in each of the countries included in the Emergency Appeal. For more information on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted migrant populations in the region and how National Societies are responding, please see the recent update published by the IFRC’s Migration Cell.