Migrant Caravans: Explained

Migrant Caravans: Explained

What are migrant caravans?

The term ‘migrant caravans’ emerged as a way to describe the large groups of people moving by land across international borders. Migrant caravans from Northern Central America have increased in number and frequency since 2018.

The first large migrant caravan in recent years departed from Honduras in October 2018. During the journey towards the United States-Mexico border, thousands of migrants, largely from EL Salvador and Guatemala joined the group. For the most part, these caravans tended to be organized through social media. Members of the caravan were motivated to move for a variety of factors, including violence and poverty in their countries of origin, and to seek better opportunities.

Links have also been made between the increase in migrant caravans and the effects of climate change on the region. Many people who were part of the caravans were previously engaged in activities such as agriculture, forestry, cattle raising and fishing, and thus more vulnerable to food and economic insecurity as a result of droughts associated with rising global temperatures. 

How many people are in the caravans?

Estimates of the number of migrants that comprise each caravan vary widely. It is not known exactly how many caravans have departed since October 2018. In January 2020, the first migrant caravan of the year departed from Honduras. Guatemalan authorities reported approximately 4,000 migrants entered through the Agua Caliente border crossing as part of this group.

Why do people choose to migrate in caravans?

Many people choose to migrate as part of the caravan because by migrating in groups they can be more protected against crime, receive more assistance from governmental and non-governmental organizations and pay lower costs (particularly for those who migrate irregularly, the need to pay for smugglers or coyotes is reduced).

What are the dangers of this type of migration?

The routes undertaken by migration caravans entail specific risks. Many of these risks are also faced by those who migrate irregularly in this region. A significant number of people have died while making the journey across Central America. Testimonies of migrants have described kidnappings, disappearances, physical and sexual assault, trafficking and execution.  There is also concern that international criminal groups are profiting from this migration flow through smuggling networks, through which migrants often fall victim to mass kidnappings and extortion.

How have migration policies in the region changed?

In response to the migrant caravans in 2018 and as a result of widespread public debate, the United States Government deployed 7,000 active-duty military officers to the border with Mexico. By early 2019, thousands of migrants were apprehended at the United States border, others received Mexican humanitarian visas while others were deported or chose to return to their countries of origin.

Since April 2019, the Mexican government has shifted its policy to prevent the transit of migrants through the country. When the January 2020 migrant caravan left Honduras and reached the border between Guatemala and Mexico, their request for permission to transit through Mexico to the United States border was denied by the Mexican government. Approximately 140 migrants chose to return to their communities of origin through IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return Programme and an estimated 2,000 returned to Honduras through the Guatemalan and Mexican authorities.

Regardless of the means and status (regular or irregular) of migration, a human rights-based approach must remain at the centre of migrant governance. It is fundamental that States protect all migrants from exploitation, violence, abuse and arbitrary detention, especially in situations of mass migration. It also obliges States to acknowledge and address the particularities of specific vulnerable populations, such as unaccompanied children.

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).