Between Borders: Stranded Migrants During the Pandemic

Between Borders: Stranded Migrants During the Pandemic

Panama, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic: these are just some of the countries in the Central America, North America, and Caribbean region where, since the beginning of the pandemic, groups of migrants have been stranded due to mobility restrictions and the closing of borders. These measures, promulgated by national governments with the aim of containing the international spread of the disease, affected both cross-border migrations to a country of destination and those of return to the community of origin, since they were all interrupted or hindered.

The migration scenario and the dynamics that have characterized our region in recent months offer several and different examples of this phenomenon.

While the first case exemplifies an irregular transit migration to a destination country in the north of the region, the other two examples refer to return movements. The latter are not necessarily voluntary, since the impact of the pandemic was the triggering factor for the return to their countries of origin. Most of the people who returned, continue to return and intend to return, are migrant workers who, after losing their jobs or having to face precarious or poor conditions, decide to go back home.

What risks do stranded migrants run?

Although the three examples mentioned above portray different situations, they emphasize the feelings of frustration, uncertainty and discomfort of migrants when they find themselves stranded between borders. However, these negative feelings are not the only challenge.

To address the urgency and relevance of the issue, the IOM released a note on "COVID-19 and stranded migrants." The document contextualizes and specifies the various unfavourable conditions and harmful situations to which stranded migrants are exposed during the pandemic. Some of the challenges they face are:

  • Running the risk of staying longer in a country than what is allowed by their legal status, as they may not be able to comply with the visa requirements, or to benefit from the appropriate support. Among the long-term consequences, migrants may face entry bans to a specific country or find themselves in irregular situations.
  • Being a victim of human trafficking and other types of violence, exploitation and abuse. Criminal groups take advantage of the vulnerabilities of migrants in times of pandemic, especially in the context of border closures and situations of helplessness and despair.
  • Not being able to easily access information or consular services and support, which amplifies uncertainty about their immigration status and heightens feelings of unease. The latter are even more aggravated by the discriminatory and xenophobic acts suffered by migrants during and after their migration process.

The numerous episodes of migrants stranded in our region emphasize that the migratory flows and therefore, the priorities and the type of care for the migrant population have been evolving in recent months, since the beginning of the pandemic.

Stranded migrants must also be part of the comprehensive response to COVID-19, ensuring that they have access to information, health services, shelter, food, and other social support systems. To this end, the IOM invites national institutions to address this phenomenon, by cooperating with United Nations agencies, to guarantee their protection and assistance and encourage the search for solutions to the situation of stranded migrants.


Interviewing Rubén Sánchez, Director of 'Zanmi'

Interviewing Rubén Sánchez, Director of 'Zanmi'
Categoria: Communication & Migration
Autor: Laura Manzi

‘Zamni' (2018) is one of the films that participated in the 2020 edition of the Global Migration Film Festival. The short film, which was selected to be screened at regional level by the Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean, narrates the experiences and daily lives of four Haitian migrants in Chile and their integration process in the South American country.

In this interview, the young director Rubén Sánchez, tells what objectives and motivations guided him towards the creation of the short film.

Why did you choose young Haitian migrants as the protagonists of your work? Is there something in their profile that makes them different from other migrant communities in Chile?

What struck us is that the Haitian population here in Chile is the one that finds it most difficult to integrate into society. One of the main reasons is that they speak another language, the Creole language, and that is an even bigger barrier considering that Chilean Spanish has many idioms and tends to be spoken very quickly. Another obstacle to integration is the racism and rejection of some sectors of society towards the Haitian population: whether because of ethnicity, nationality, language or other prejudices. This leads to more segregation and not integration.

In the short film, there are many scenes that portray different landscapes: the sea, the forest, the city. What is the role of nature in the integration process of migrants?

Climatic conditions and landscapes can be a challenge for integration. For example, Haiti is very flat, there are no mountains and the climate is tropical. Here in Chile, nature and microclimates are quite diverse (the north has higher temperatures, the south is more humid and rainy, while the central zone is a mixture of these).
Nature, however, has also a symbolic purpose in the documentary. The mountain range, which characterizes the Chilean landscape, is the great frontier that any person faces to reach Chile. This justifies the scene that opens and closes the film and represents one of the protagonists in the Embalse del Yeso, which is a place here in Santiago, in the middle of the mountain range. We wanted to film those scenes there as a more oneiric way of representing this enormous wall that is like a border to cross in order to reach Chile, and that at the same time symbolizes the great wall that is in the cultural shock that the Haitian population faces.

‘Life is a circle. A perfect circle of which we are not a part': the protagonists in the film have jobs, go to school, learn Spanish. Then, what are the elements that continue to prevent their integration into the host community, this 'circle' from which they are excluded?

The cultural shock is big. If the host society lives this 'fear of the unknown', the Haitian migrant population in turn reacts and this generates a fear of the community where they live. The lack of integration is made difficult by prejudice and because initiatives that value cultural richness are not promoted. I think this is what we lack as a society: to be more educated. If there is no good education, there will be no people who cannot integrate; we still need to be educated and 'humanized'. I feel that in some way we are also 'dehumanized'. This is what the documentary wants to capture: to reflect on the humanity that we need, the humanity that we need to integrate others, to show that we are all really the same, we are all human beings and we all have dreams.

How much is the director visible in his work? How come are you interested in the subject of migration?

The issue of Haitian migration was, for me, a personal concern, because I live in one of the cities in Chile with the largest Haitian population. I used to witness daily this rejection of the Haitian population in the eyes of the people, in comments that were exchanged by whispering in the bus when I went to the university. I was worried about that.
Also, before I enrolled in audiovisual communication, I studied social work, and had many courses on the migration issue and related social policies. I did a lot of research on Haitian migration, which allowed me to capture the central idea of the short film. During the shooting process, I had the opportunity to meet these young people (Haitian migrants), to live their culture, to taste their food. I was filled with a culture that I didn't know, I was filled with knowledge, with a new experience. I wish this documentary could reach more people, change who we are and cultivate our humanity.