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.


7 recommendations to promote the inclusion of migrants in host communities through social and cultural activities.

Categoria: Pacto Mundial sobre Migración
Autor: Carlos Escobar

The promotion of social and cultural activities as a mechanism to encourage interaction between migrants and host communities with the aim of advancing in the construction of more just and peaceful societies, is currently a topic of special interest in studies, policies and programs on migrant inclusion and social cohesion.

Taking Intergroup Contact Theory (IGCT) as a reference, different researches argue that the interaction of people from different places and contexts, under the right circumstances, favors trust and the change of xenophobic or discriminatory perceptions. Thus, intergovernmental agreements such as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration have integrated this perspective into their theoretical and conceptual body. In particular, Goal 16 "Empower migrants and societies to achieve full inclusion and social cohesion", calls for the creation of community centres or programs at the local level to facilitate the participation of migrants in the receiving society by engaging migrants, community members, diaspora organizations, migrant associations and local authorities in intercultural dialogue, exchange of experiences, mentoring programs and the creation of business linkages that enhance integration outcomes and foster mutual respect.

Based on the analysis and review of different research, the IOM, in its publication The Power of Contact: Designing, Facilitating and Evaluating Social Mixing Activities to Strengthen Migrant Integration and Social Cohesion Between Migrants and Local Communities – A Review of Lessons Learned, proposes a series of recommendations, based on empirical evidence, to encourage the participation of migrants and receiving communities in social and cultural activities.

1). Fun and goal-oriented

Designing and incorporating fun and exciting activities leads to a lighter and more welcoming environment for people to meet, interact and create social bonds. At the same time, setting common goals, which neither group can achieve without the participation of the other (cooperative interdependence), makes the activities more engaging and participatory.

2). Mutual appreciation

Participants should understand, recognize and appreciate culture, traditions and history as part of the process of bridging differences, maximizing each other's strengths and identifying commonalities. It is important that all individuals are able to identify how their contributions can have a positive impact on the achievement of common goals.

3). Shared ownership

Involving migrants and local communities in all phases of activities will increase their participation. This ownership empowers them, raises their self-esteem and opens up new opportunities for responsibility and commitment.

4). Guided Reflection

Dialogues and activities that allow for a certain degree of reflection help to create an atmosphere that is perceived as trusting, friendly and warm. Processing information and sharing personal and sensitive stories, which can evoke memories, are of utmost importance as long as they are carefully guided and accompanied by facilitators or project members.

5). Supervision and Trust Facilitation

Those responsible for group interactions, such as team leaders, facilitators, project staff or event planners, must play an active role in promoting equality within intergroup relations and creating an inclusive environment for all. This deliberate effort is crucial to overcome the natural tendency of participants to group themselves according to their most salient characteristics and status.

6). Sustained and regular intervention

It goes without saying that the more frequent, prolonged and intensive the participation, the better the attitude of each individual towards others. This means adopting an approach that rethinks the role of the people involved, who in turn will define the needs of their communities and ultimately take part in the design and organization of appropriate interventions.

7). Institutional support and partnership

The support of institutions such as local governments, media, government agencies and intermediary organizations is critical to promoting and facilitating constructive efforts to strengthen intergroup relations. The coordination of these institutions creates a system that can provide resources and incentives to promote and strengthen intergroup relations.

Social and cultural activities, understood as a programmatic intervention strategy to facilitate the inclusion of migrants in receiving communities, are important to the extent that they offer non-institutional spaces for interaction, where through spontaneous human contact, social ties are built based on experiences, stories, emotions and life trajectories of the participants. This facilitates the generation of trust between individuals, greater degrees of social cohesion and, of course, peaceful coexistence in communities, understood not only as the absence of conflict, but also as a positive, dynamic and participatory process in which dialogue is promoted and conflicts are resolved in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation, through the acceptance of differences, the ability to listen, recognize, respect and appreciate others. (UN, 2021).