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Latin American countries discuss new migration challenges amid COVID-19

The virtual event held by the Inter-American Development Bank engaged with several immigration host countries.

Washington, D.C.- The Inter-American Development Bank held a Virtual Regional Policy Dialogue with migration authorities to get a first-hand look at how countries in Latin America that host migrants are handling large and sudden influxes of people during the coronavirus pandemic. These authorities had the opportunity to discuss the challenges encountered   by border control authorities during the health crisis and the impact that lockdown measures have had on migrants and on people who live near these borders. They also talked about the measures undertaken by their countries to assist migrants, lessons learned, and what their new priorities and areas of interest are. 

As the virus spreads and borders in the region and around the world shut down indefinitely, migrants and refugees find themselves more vulnerable than ever. For this reason, during the virtual dialogue the IDB stressed the need to include migrants in national COVID-19 response plans aimed at reducing risk for everyone. “We want to help Latin America emerge from the crisis less unequal than what it was. We want it to keep it from getting worse, and above all we do not want things to worsen for migrants," said Marcelo Cabrol, manager of the IDB's Social Sector. 

Álvaro Bellolio, director of Chile's Department of Foreign Affairs and Migration, highlighted the role of digital services helping the country to address migratory needs without endangering migrants or government employees tending to them. This was echoed by Roxana del Águila, head of migration affairs in Peru, who said her department "was already considered a leader in digitalization in the government before the COVID-19 crisis and was helping other agencies to implement digitalization.” Del Águila emphasized the importance of providing financial aid to vulnerable families, including immigrant families with contributions from UNHCR and IOM, through the Immigration Information Registry. At the same time, both Chile and Peru confirmed the recent enactment of decrees allowing professionals in the health sector with degrees abroad to exercise their profession during the emergency.

 Felipe Muñoz, Advisor to the President of Colombia for the Colombian-Venezuelan Border, said that although Colombia’s healthcare system was already under severe strain to meet the increased healthcare demand before the pandemic, migrants suspected of or known to be infected with the coronavirus are treated in exactly the same way Colombian citizens are.  Muñoz, alluding to comments by President Iván Duque, said, “The pandemic does not look at passports. Nor does the Colombian government." As is the case with Chile and Peru, Muñoz said that in Colombia access to COVID-19 health care is guaranteed both for migrants with residency papers through normal channels and via emergency arrangements for those who do not have such permits. He also said that in order to alleviate the effects of the closure of the border with Venezuela, humanitarian corridors have been opened for people who are particularly vulnerable. He said 200,000 packages of emergency food baskets have been distributed among approximately 800,000 needy people in order to ensure their food security and well-being in the coming weeks.

In this dialogue a poll was carried out among countries that host sudden, large influxes of migrants so as to identify topic priorities issues for upcoming meetings.  Survey results showed greater  interest on matters like migration and employment, coordination across various levels of government on migration issues, and use of new technologies to monitor migration and implement policies that are more clearly focused on it.

This virtual event was attended by migration authorities; by Marcelo Cabrol, Manager of the IDB Social Sector; Joaquim Tres, lead specialist in the Migration Unit of the IDB Social Sector;  Marisol Rodriguez, senior economist in that same unit; and Feline Freier, a professor and researcher at the University of the Pacific in Lima, who acted as moderator of the dialogue. 

About the IDB

The Inter-American Development Bank is devoted to improving lives. Established in 1959, the IDB is a leading source of long-term financing for economic, social and institutional development in Latin America and the Caribbean. The IDB also conducts cutting-edge research and provides policy advice, technical assistance and training to public and private sector clients throughout the region.


External Contacts

Andrea Ortega

Andrea Ortega
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