Migrant smuggling in Mexico and Central America was never "quarantined" during 2020, says IOM study.

Date Publish: 

San José - A recent study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Central America and Mexico analyzed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the migration flows involving migrant smugglers. The main findings indicate that smuggling has continued to happen, even though flows have diminished since the beginning of 2020.

Migrant smuggling, the irregular movement of people through international borders, constitutes one of the world's most lucrative criminal activities. While global mobility was utterly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic due to travel restrictions and border closures, the "smuggling of people" throughout Mexico and Central America was never "quarantined."

The report found no evidence of organized crime taking control of the smuggling of migrants, focusing on illegally transporting drugs, medicines, and other articles. Instead, the study found that subsistence smuggling prevails, practiced by inhabitants of border areas, impoverished due to reduced work opportunities and income loss caused by mobility and commercial restrictions.

Migrant smuggling, the report says, is practiced by men and women who depend on informal local economies as income sources. An increase was noted in children and adolescents who reside in border areas and use their knowledge of local hidden paths to facilitate irregular migration.

Findings include information about changes in demand, prices and organization of services offered by smugglers. The lack of resources to meet the payment demanded by smugglers forces migrant families to take mortgages on their lands and properties, becoming victims of both smugglers and lenders.

The study also explores the challenges that institutions have faced in responding to the issue in a context in which their resources and operations were directly affected.

"One of the recommendations of this study is to integrate communities involved in migrant smuggling into socioeconomic recovery strategies to diversify their income generation and livelihood alternatives," says Alexandra Bonnie, coordinator of IOM's Western Hemisphere Program. "States should recognize that diminished, inadequate or difficult access to safe and legal alternatives for migration fuels the demand for migrant smuggling, which in turn systematically puts migrants at risk. Under a comprehensive approach, the fight against this crime should be seen as one more aspect of migration management."

The study was conducted between July and August 2020 with a qualitative, descriptive, and exploratory methodology. Methods used included document review, field observation, and interviews with key government and international organization staff.

The study was presented on Wednesday, February 17, to representatives of member States of the Regional Conference on Migration (RCM), members of the Central American Commission of Directors of Migration (OCAM) and the Regional Coalition against Trafficking of Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (CORETT).

The report is part of the Western Hemisphere Program, funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Find the full document (in Spanish) here, and a summary in English here.

Preparation Underway for Regional Dialogue on Human Mobility & Climate Change

Date Publish: 
01 / 03 / 2021

Roseau, 28 February 2021 – Environmental migration and the increasing importance of understanding how people move after disasters such as hurricanes, landslides, storms, floods, droughts and coastal erosion, will be the subject of upcoming national workshops over the next few weeks in five independent OECS member states.

From March 2nd to 12th, 2021 the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the IOM Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) in collaboration with the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission, will bring together key government stakeholders from the core sectors of Disaster Coordination and Emergency Response, Immigration, and Statistics, in Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda, and St Vincent & the Grenadines, in virtual workshops to discuss the status of data collection and management regarding environmental migration. Other sectors that have been invited and are encouraged to contribute include Tourism, Climate Change, Environment, Education, Labour, Foreign Affairs, Economic & Social Planning, Health, Local Government and any other relevant stakeholders. A first national workshop was successfully held in Dominica in late January 2021 and dates for the workshop with stakeholders in Saint Kitts & Nevis are being discussed.

Communications Assistant for IOM Dominica, Maxine Alleyne-Esprit explains: “Over the last six months, IOM Dominica and GMDAC, in collaboration with the OECS, have been assessing human mobility data collection and management processes in six independent OECS member states as part of a wider ‘Regional Dialogue to Address Human Mobility and Climate Change Adaptation in the Eastern Caribbean’ project, which is funded by the Federal Republic of Germany. The project’s activities are geared towards building a regional dialogue in the Eastern Caribbean, to enhance governments’ capacities to collect, analyse and utilise data on human mobility caused by disasters.”

The OECS Commission is in full support of this project. According to Dr. Clarence Henry, Senior Technical Officer at the Regional Integration Unit of the OECS Commission, “Disasters related to natural hazards have been increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. Understanding, through data and evidence, the patterns of movement, the complex motivations, and any issues surrounding environmental migration, will assist governments to set appropriate frameworks to ensure safe, orderly and dignified movement of people in these scenarios.”

Various government institutions and other agencies have contributed to the research. The upcoming national workshops will provide the opportunity for the research team to discuss and validate the findings of the study at country level. It will also be an opportunity to identify areas for improving the collection and management of environmental migration data, nationally and regionally. In this way, the workshops will contribute to a more whole-of-government approach to migration governance and management in situations of crisis due to disasters and the adverse effects of climate change.

Environmental migration is the movement of persons or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are forced to leave their places of habitual residence, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move within or outside their country of origin or habitual residence.

The Eastern Caribbean is highly vulnerable to a series of natural hazards, and the islands have been experiencing the effects of climate change. Anecdotal evidence suggests that environmental migration is often used as a short- or long-term coping strategy by many Caribbean citizens after disasters strike. IOM’s 2018 Migration Governance Needs Assessment study in ten island states of the Commonwealth Caribbean identified limitations in availability of data and evidence which is required for countries to plan their interventions. Ultimately, this project will assist OECS states to respond effectively to the mobility dimensions of environmental crises, providing for the socio-economic well-being of those who are forced to move. For more information on the project, IOM or its work, contact IOM Dominica Communication Assistant at (767) 275-3225 or via email at malleyne@iom.int / iomdominica@iom.int


Donor Partner – Germany’s Federal Foreign Office: With its offices in Berlin and Bonn and a network of around 230 missions abroad, the Federal Foreign Office maintains Germany’s relations with other countries as well as with international and supra-national organizations. This work concerns more than just political contacts among governments and parliaments. Because Germany and German society are enmeshed in ever-growing international networks, the Federal Foreign Office promotes intensive interaction and exchange with the world in the fields of business, culture, science and technology, the environment, development issues and many more areas.

IOM – UN Migration Agency: The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is a United Nations organization working on migration issues. IOM was established in 1951 and is the leading intergovernmental organization in the field of migration, committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society. In 2016 IOM became part of the United Nations as the first agency specialized in all areas of migration. Dominica became a member state of the IOM in December 2017.

The core function of IOM is “building migration management capacities” where it is most needed, through providing for training of stakeholders to make a difference; development of national policies; engaging the diaspora for development; creating livelihood opportunities and setting up new government institutions. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, promote international cooperation on migration issues, assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people. www.iom.int