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.
- In Panama, in the province of Darien (one of the key crossing points for extra-regional migrants heading to North America), 2,582 migrants were stranded this October, according to Luz Tantaruna, the Emergency and Post Crisis Regional Advisor of IOM for the Americas. They had to live with poor hygienic conditions, lack of resources for food, and without access to decent housing.
- In Costa Rica, the intentions of hundreds of Nicaraguans to return to their country of origin were obstructed by immigration restrictions. Migrants were stuck between borders, in the Peñas Blancas district, and had to remain in precarious conditions for several weeks.
- In the Dominican Republic, more than one hundred Venezuelan migrants found themselves stranded in the Caribbean country due to the difficulty of returning to their country of origin. This condition was particularly detrimental to the well-being of migrants, who considered it necessary to return to their community of origin and support network, since they lacked the means to survive abroad.
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.