By Rebecca Scarborough
On Tuesday, November 23rd, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) held a virtual event to publicize the report Charting a New Regional Course of Action: The Complex Motivations and Costs of Central American Migration. The report focuses on the factors that drive migration from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and the costs and economic implications of migration.
Luis Almagro, Secretary General of OAS, noted that gender-based violence, climate change, and organized crime are some of the top drivers of migration, in addition to poverty, unemployment, and natural disasters. Almagro reminded attendees that migration is usually not a choice, but rather an effort to survive, and said that the United States and Canada should change immigration policies to expand legal channels for immigration.
David Beasley, Executive Director of WFP, said that 6.4 million people in Central America live with crisis levels of hunger, and 60% of Central American households reported losing income because of the pandemic. Central America was also hit by two destructive hurricanes in recent history. Beasley noted that desperation drives people to migrate.
Ricardo Zúñiga, Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle, U.S. Department of State, called the past few years an “age of mass migration.” Zúñiga attributed this to a “profound lack of hope” and warned that we should expect more natural disasters due to climate change, and that we must help communities cope.
Rosella Bottone, Regional Monitoring Advisor, WFP, said the report showed that economic factors were the primary reason migrants wanted to move, and that families facing food insecurity were most likely to make plans to migrate. The main reason people gave for choosing not to migrate was fear of separation from family. Bottone also noted that people from all economic groups are migrating, and that most migrants are relying on “irregular migration” (migration outside of legal channels, such as paying smugglers or joining unauthorized caravans). According to the report, migrants have spent about 2.2 billion dollars on migrating, most of which went to smugglers, or for other forms of “irregular migration.”
Soto noted that “irregular migration” exposes migrants to inhumane conditions and emphasized the need for action. His recommendations included:
- Expanding national social protection programs to help end hunger and alleviate poverty
- Working at a local level and making sure to monitor and evaluate any programs
- Expanding legal pathways for Central Americans to live and work in the U.S. and other countries.
Dignitaries from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras all spoke about migration as a human right, and their belief that migration should be a free choice. His Excellency Pedro Brolo, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Guatemala, noted that Guatemala is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. He emphasized the link between food security, climate change, and migration, but noted that while migration is a right, there is need for safe, orderly migration.
His Excellency Lisandro Rosales, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Republic of Honduras, stated that migration becomes a “tragedy” when people are forced to migrate but do not want to. He noted the need of cooperation between different countries to address the root causes of migration.
Charting a New Regional Course of Action: The Complex Motivations and Costs of Central American Migration was published by the WFP, the Civic Data Design Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) with support from the OAS and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). To read the report, visit: https://www.wfp.org/publications/complex-motivations-and-costs-central-american-migration
For data on migration, visit: http://migration.mit.edu/