Cristhian González

The number of people who decide to migrate is continually increasing. However, the experience of indigenous people has been systematically excluded from international migration frameworks. There is a generalized vision of indigenous peoples as communities deeply rooted in their territories and customs. However, more and more indigenous individuals and families are migrating from their territories as part of the dynamics of global migration.

The development of different States in the region is characterized by the non-involvement of indigenous peoples from a participatory and multicultural approach. This has led to a series of actions imposed on traditional local systems, which impact the culture, heritage and socio-economic opportunities of these communities. In many cases, the migration of indigenous peoples arises due to these cultural pressures and the new conditions of industrialized and globalized life.

Within this context, societies and States must consider the following points for multicultural work with these populations:

The correct way to address them: in terms of international law, Indigenous People should be understood as all the people who are consciously part of a common identity or culture. On the other hand, indigenous communities can refer to these groups of people, or the geographic areas where they are concentrated. Finally, indigenous territory is the extension of land that these people have in their countries of residence.

Human rights: Indigenous peoples are protected in three legislative areas: their universal rights, recognized by States or in international declarations; their rights as migrants, guaranteed by national or international laws; and their rights as indigenous persons guaranteed by national or international laws.

Diversity: all indigenous peoples are different in their culture, language, customs and traditions. Indigenous languages are an important factor in socio-cultural issues such as education, scientific and technological development, the biosphere and the environment, freedom of expression, employment and social inclusion. In addition, many of them have cross-border characteristics, which requires new analytical approaches and public policies that take into account the perspective of indigenous peoples in migration.

Causes of migration: Indigenous societies are seen rooted strongly in their territories and customs, which are usually located in areas rich in natural resources and far from urban areas or cities. However, the migration or internal displacement of indigenous people occurs due to multiple factors: mainly the need to escape from conflicts and persecution, the impacts of climate change, the dispossession of their lands and social disadvantage. Limited access of indigenous peoples to services such as education, health and employment opportunities is another factor that causes the mobilization of these people.

In Latin America, around 40% of all indigenous peoples live in urban areas, including 80% in some countries of Central America. In most cases, indigenous people who migrate find better employment opportunities and improve their economic situation, but they must move away from their traditional lands and customs, forcing them to face numerous challenges, including lack of access to public services and discrimination.

For 2010, a population of 45 million indigenous people was estimated in the region, and in 2018 there were 83,000 indigenous international migrants in 9 Central American countries, most of whom were women. It is important to emphasize that, although they stay far from their place of origin, identity traits and processes of resignification of identity are in constant movement to create a new sense of belonging.

Health: some of the health problems faced by indigenous migrant people are poor nutrition, a lack of access to medical services and a lack of health programs with an intercultural focus, leading to greater incidences of preventable diseases.

To summarize, within the countries, support for these communities is essential to cultivate an inclusive, multicultural and development-oriented society in which indigenous and non-indigenous communities benefit mutually. With this vision of intercultural coexistence, the migratory processes could become safer for these people throughout Central America.

In other words, to achieve this objective, society and institutions should be encouraged to change their methods of approaching indigenous peoples through more inclusive systems through intercultural dialogue, and thus avoid the imposition of forms of progress or attention without considering the unique characteristics of each group of people.

Recommended reading:

International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs:

World Bank Report:

Cepal Report:

Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean: