Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 31, 2021 — As the second large migrant caravan of the year departing from Honduras was halted before reaching the border with Guatemala, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warns this is a symptom of deeper issues that must be addressed in the region.
Worsening living conditions across northern Central America are contributing to an increase in migration flows. Historically, gang and gender-based violence, poverty, insecurity and climate change have been the cause for more than 712,000 people to be internally and externally displaced in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador every year. These factors did not change during COVID-19, in fact many worsened.
After an apparent decrease in the number of migrants and asylum requests in Mexico in 2020—due to public health measures and the closure of borders in response to COVID-19—the situation is already changing in the early months of 2021. In recent weeks, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) reported that, just in January and February, more than 9,000 people from northern Central America had requested asylum in Mexico, 40% of the applications submitted in total for the previous year.
Meghan Lopez, the IRC’S regional vice president for Latin America, said: “As with any crisis, those who are in vulnerable situations are the ones most at risk. Now, one year into the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, its effects—along with all the other pre-existing challenges—are plunging millions in northern Central America into an even deeper crisis, so it is only natural to expect more and more people to be forced to flee.
“International cooperation and funding are needed to address the root drivers of displacement that cause thousands of people to make the desperate journey out of Central America to Mexico and the U.S.—looking for safety.
“Countries like Guatemala and Mexico are taking actions to try to prevent the caravans from reaching their borders, sometimes using the lack of a COVID-19 negative test as an excuse. However seeking asylum is legal, even during a pandemic and people continue to face the same challenges that provoked migration and asylum petitions as those before COVID. Governments must ensure a safe pathway for people, from their country of origin to that of destination, as well as put fair and humane immigration policies and systems in practice. That’s not the end of the road: people must be protected at all times, even if they have already been granted asylum, to avoid tragic situations like the deaths of Elvin Mazariegos or Victoria Salazar.”
The IRC recently published an analysis of data gathered via CuéntaNos, part of the Global Signpost project, a dynamic information platform for those such as internally displaced, migrants and other vulnerable populations seeking services. Covering the period from November 2020 to January 2021, the analysis identified increases in the search for information on:
- Identification and migration processes. Visits increased 500% from October to November and 1,500% the next month.
- Employment. From December 2020 to January 2021, when the first caravan was halted in Guatemala, visits increased 121% in Honduras and 42% in El Salvador.
- Women’s services and protection. The number of visits to pages on support for gender-based violence increased more than 100% in El Salvador.
More about the IRC in northern Central America
The IRC implements its programming in collaboration with a network of 280 partners across Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador by:
- Assisting victims of the two deadly hurricanes that struck in November, including child protection and psychosocial support, distribution of hygiene and dignity kits, and cash programming.
- Disseminating verified, trustworthy information via the interactive CuéntaNos platform and its integrated social media and WhatsApp messaging helplines, moderated locally by trained IRC staff.
- Responding to urgent needs of women and girls at risk of gender-based violence, providing access to information and life-saving, multi-purpose cash transfers and basic supplies. Part of the IRC’s protection work, that also includes members of the LGBTQ+ community in addition to women and girls, comprises the Safe Spaces in El Salvador and Honduras. These spaces enable individuals affected by violence and displacement to access information through CuéntaNos, referrals, psychosocial support and community programs.