Migration crisis in Central America and Mexico – Emergency appeal n° MDR43008 – Regional operational strategy – Panama



IFRC Secretariat funding requirement: CHF 18 million
Federation-wide funding requirement: CHF 28 million


The Americas region is home to complex and mixed migration, which takes place both within and outside the region. Many migrants, refugees and returnees take irregular routes motivated by persecution, violence, disaster or the desire for better opportunities. Central America has become one of the busiest transit routes to the United States in recent years.

Unlike the 1990s, when most migrants were of Central American nationalities and there was evidence of growing South-North migration, today migrants come from multiple regions and continents. Many are of very different nationalities, and often use Panama as the first crossing point to continue to the United States and Mexico. Mixed flows trigger multiple groups and profiles of migrants traveling to Central America through different routes and at different stages of the journey in the same region. For example, migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, which are both countries of origin and return, are vulnerable because, among other things, they have often been displaced due to violence , poverty, lack of employment or other threats such as disasters.

Since the beginning of 2022, there has been a significant increase in the number of refugees, migrants and returnees transiting overland northwards through Central America and Mexico, compared to previous years. In the Northern Triangle of Central America alone – made up of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – from January to May 2022, 89,186 people have returned, an increase of 98.5% compared to the same months in 2021.

Nicaragua also has migrant populations in transit and leaving for neighboring countries or traveling to Mexico and the United States, in addition to all those in transit coming from other continents or other regions of America, such as Venezuelans and Cubans transiting through the Darien border and then through the Northern Triangle.

In 2021, Mexico received more than 130,000 asylum applications, the third highest number of any country in the world, including around 90,000 lodged in Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala. In the first four months of 2022, the Mexican Commission for Aid to Refugees (COMAR) received 40,026 asylum applications, mainly from nationals of Honduras, Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua, strengthening the finding that these countries are becoming countries of transit, departure and return.

The National Red Cross Societies of the Americas are committed to meeting the humanitarian assistance and protection needs of migrants, refugees and returnees, regardless of their status, and at key stages of their migratory journey. This continued commitment is expressed in a new regional program based on the route of the Americas entitled “Humanitarian assistance and protection of people on the move”. This program is multi-year and multi-country and includes the humanitarian activities of 22 National Societies in the region. This emergency appeal has been launched to complement the regional response by allowing additional support to National Societies to cope with the massive increase in the number of migrants, returnees and refugees on the move and the increase in the critical needs of assistance and protection.

Severity of humanitarian conditions

Government policy contexts and migration policies of the region influence the flows and movements of migrants. In November 2021, the Nicaraguan government announced it was waiving visa requirements for Cubans, one of the few countries in the region to do so. This has since generated a mass exodus from Cuba to Nicaragua. On March 20, 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the United States government previewed a measure to reduce uncontrolled cross-border movement, which limited the entry of migrants. The Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles resulted in the agreement of a roadmap in which 20 countries of the Americas, including the United States, Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile , Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, adhered to a declaration containing commitments concrete measures to contain the migration crisis in the region. The United States has promised to increase its quota of refugees from the Americas to 20,000 by 2023 and 2024, with priority for Haitians, in addition to continuing to accept temporary non-agricultural workers from Central America. In June 2022, Mexican authorities also issued thousands of temporary documents and transit permits for migrants who left the south of the country. However, hundreds of people were still in various towns waiting to receive money from relatives or resting before continuing north. More than 5,000 families have called for protective and precautionary measures given the delays and requirements to complete immigration procedures and to be able to advance to the northern border with the United States.

In addition to the complexity of transiting on difficult roads, migrants are exposed to assault, physical violence, sexual violence and other protection risks, and cases of sexual violence were not prosecuted. From January to June 2022, more than 170 cases of unaccompanied and separated children have also been identified in the Darien gap, between Colombia and Panama. According to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, the nearly 4,000 deaths at the Mexico-US border are almost five times the total number of deaths recorded on all other routes. The leading cause of death is drowning, at 1,750, after accidental deaths, vehicle accidents, illness/lack of access to adequate health care, violence and lack of shelter and food.

Conditions during migration also pose serious risks to the physical and mental health of migrants.
Under these conditions, it is common to be exposed to hazards or risks, including adverse weather conditions and risks of traumatic pathology, vector-borne diseases and common infectious diseases when there is no clean water, adequate sanitation and unhealthy living conditions. There is a clear risk of psychological trauma due to stress, anxiety and uncertainty for both migrant populations and host communities.

Central America and Mexico are prone to climate-related hazards and disasters, and emergencies risk worsening the current situation of migrants. In the eastern Pacific, the hurricane season officially began on May 15 and in the Atlantic on June 1. Early forecasts for the 2022 season likely indicate 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or greater), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or greater), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or more). So far, there have been no significant events, but the peak of the season is between mid-August and mid-October.

Structural problems and COVID-19 have accentuated the socio-economic effects including high levels of inequality, informal work, lack of social protection, poverty and vulnerability. Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by weak health and social protection systems with expanding marginalized urban settlements that lack access to essential services. In 2020, inequality contributed to the highest increase in hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean among the different regions of the world, with more than 30% of people affected on average. The rise in severe food insecurity represented a setback of at least a decade, as it is estimated that in the first year of the Covid pandemic, 60 million people went hungry in the region, nearly 14 million more than in 2019. Some countries have now seen protests over the economic situation, and if the situation continues to deteriorate, more protests can be expected.


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