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OAS calls for regional cooperation on migration

Distribution of immigrants in the Americas by region or continent of origin, 2013.
Distribution of immigrants in the Americas by region or continent of origin, 2013.
Distribution of immigrants in the Americas by region or continent of origin, 2013.
Increased immigration within and to the Americas has spurred the Organisation of American States (OAS) to call on nations to commit to greater coordination, take steps to prevent disappearances along migration routes and to limit the use of detention of migrants according to immigration status.
The findings are part of an OAS report into immigration flows and trend in the region, which also highlighted a “general context of increased migration in the Americas (from both within and outside the Americas), a number of factors have influenced an extraordinary increase in irregular migration flows from the origins analysed, particularly from 2015.”
 The report was produced in collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Natural disasters in Haiti and Nepal were behind some of the increases but the regional organisation also pointed to “Cuban expectations that facilities for immigrating to the United States will be terminated owing to normalisation of US-Cuban diplomatic relations, have contributed to extraordinary increases of flows to the Americas.”
The regional organisation also noted that “irregular” immigration had also seen an increase, and noted that challenges such as lack of proper documentation and language barriers have made it hard for national authorities to cope with the flows.

Different origins, different destinations
According to OAS figures, the migrant population in the Americas in 1990 totalled 34 million, rising dramatically to 61 million in 2013. That 78-percent jump was greater than the 42 percent global average, and is largely explained by the increases in the migrant populations in Canada and the United States — which have practically doubled since 1990.
In Latin America specifically, the same population has grown a much smaller 19 percent to 7.7 million, with growth picking up particularly since 2000.
Nonetheless, the OAS notes that “although the United States has remained a magnet for potential immigrants from the Americas and the rest of the world in recent decades, many other countries in the Hemisphere have seen a significant increase in immigration, regardless of their level of development. The immigrant populations in Central America and the Andean region, in particular, have swelled markedly since 2000.”
In that regard Latin America is distinct from the United States and Canada in that a greater share of the immigrants that arrive in the region do so from other Latin American countries. According to figures cited by the OAS, on average “64 percent of the immigrants in the Caribbean are from that region, 63 percent in the Andean region, and 44 percent in the Southern Cone. The average is lower for Central America (32 percent).”
The lower average for Central America is due to the fact that many use Central America as a route to the United States and not a destination in and of itself.
Flows within the region have grown by about 17 percent a year in Latin America and the Caribbean in the period between 2010 and 2013, and part of that can be explained by Cuban and Haitian immigration. Cuban migration to the US increased in 2014 after several years of being flat, but Cuban flows to Brazil and Ecuador jumped dramatically from 2013 onwards. For example, in 2012 there were 355 request for temporary and permanent residence in Brazil by Cuban applicants — or 0.3 percent of all applications that year in Brazil. The next year there were 5,828 and in 2014 another 7,218, enough to be 6.6 percent of the total residence applications. Similar trends were seen in Colombia.

Cuban-US relations
In the case of Ecuador, the jump is even more dramatic as the number of Cuban migrants went from the 321 in 2011 (2.9 percent of the total) to 14,608 (16.3 percent) in 2014. While far more Cubans applied for residency in the United States in this period (just under 48,000) in 2014, the surge in Cuban migration in the region has drawn attention from authorities. The OAS writes that “since the announcement in December 2014 that talks were beginning on the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, and anticipating that the preferential migration policies offered by the United States to Cuban nationals could be rescinded, it is assumed that thousands of Cubans decided to leave their country and attempt to enter the United States by land and/or air, crossing Central America and Mexico to take advantage of the Cuban
Adjustment Act of 1966 and the “wet foot, dry foot policy” of 1995, which allows for the automatic admission of Cuban citizens who manage to reach US territory and the rejection of those detained in US waters.”
Paired with regulatory reforms in countries such as Ecuador, which has provided irregular migrants the greatest opportunities to regularise their status, the changes in automatic admission to the US has shifted how migrants move around the Americas.
Migration from Asia and Africa to Latin America has also been on the rise according to the report, but on a much smaller scale. In 2013, the immigrant population of Asian origin in Latin America accounted for “four percent of the total number of immigrants of all origins, with immigrants of African origin accounting for a mere 0.6 percent. These figures clearly demonstrate the very low levels of settlement in the region. Brazil posted the highest percentage of immigrants of Asian (16.9 percent) and African (3.1 percent) origin, followed by Panama, with 15.2 percent of immigrants being of Asian origin.”
The majority of the so-called “extracontinental” and irregular flows are from Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Nepal, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, and Sri Lanka, countries that the OAS notes have domestic factors that spur migration.

Unworkable laws and humanitarian problems

Noting that Latin American countries are faced with the increasing number of undocumented migrants, and that the standard practice is to apply a model of “detection, detention, and deportation” the OAS notes that such a model is unworkable because of humanitarian, practical and financial reasons. Furthermore, given the lack of material resources and the logistic problems associated with deportations, detention of undocumented migrants while waiting deportations that are likely difficult to execute is untenable.
Furthermore, there is a lack of “the lack of adequate housing and basic health care, especially for pregnant women and children, who are the most at-risk people in this migration flow, especially in the most dangerous zones of the journey (some of which have high crime rates with the potential for abuse by armed actors, or naturally isolated areas)” for undocumented groups who are stuck at borders that they cannot pass because of documentation problems.
The rise of new migration routes has also strained the resources of Central American states, and there are also concerns that human-traffickers are mixed in among the groups.
In response, the OAS has encouraged countries to offer specialised attention for vulnerable groups, improve legislation so that migration can take place in a more safe and legal manner as well as to promote greater humanitarian and protection assistance between states. Central is the adoption of the concept “of shared responsibility” in address migrant flows.
The report also concludes that the detention of irregular migrants “should be an exceptional measure and should not be treated as a criminal offence nor should it result in measures of a criminal nature. Freedom and alternatives to detention should always be considered first, that is, detention should be a measure of last resort.”               

Herald staff
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