Jose Miguel Insulza
Secretary General of the Organization of American States
(OAS, Washington DC)
“Current trends and issues in international migration in the OAS region”
Ü Eurasylum: In 2011 the Organization of American States (OAS) published the first “Report on International Migration in the Americas (SICREMI)”, which was a much needed complement to the annual SOPEMI report covering the OECD area. Can you discuss some of the current major trends in international migration in the Americas, including issues of irregular migration and asylum?
Ü Jose Miguel Insulza: The first report on International Migration in the Americas was generated through the Continuous Reporting System on International Migration in the Americas – SICREMI confirms the continuous trend from roughly the 1960s to emigrate from the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to developed countries such as the United States, Canada and Spain. Despite the economic crisis in the United States and Spain, the return of migrants to their countries of origin has not been as massive as expected; it appears that many immigrants choose to expect changes in their economic situation, remaining in destination countries despite difficult conditions.
North America is the dominant region receiving immigrants, with the United States and Canada receiving tens of thousands of migrants each year. In absolute terms, in 2009 the United States and Canada had a combined influx of about 3,184,600 immigrants, counting immigrants receiving both permanent and temporary residency. For the same year, there was an inflow of 460,290 immigrants in seven Latin American countries analyzed in the first report: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, and Uruguay. As a percentage of total population, immigration in the Latin American countries studied is particularly low: Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile are countries with significant immigration but with much lower levels than Canada and the United States.
Few countries have updated statistics on flows of unauthorized immigrants. Nevertheless, the United States performed regular estimates, which indicate that an average of 850,000 unauthorized immigrants entered annually between 2000 and 2005, a number which fell to about 300,000 per year between 2007 and 2009. This decrease can be attributed in part to the imposition of regulations, but also to adverse labour and employment prospects in the United States, which have caused a decrease in the number of potential migrants who try to enter the country. Unauthorized migration is not limited to the United States and is part of the dynamic of migration in all of the countries of the Americas, though clearly not on the same scale as in the case of the United States. Many Latin American countries have carried out regularizations; Argentina has undertaken a major program of regularization since 2007, known as the Great Homeland Program (Programa Patria Grande, in Spanish), that from 2007 to 2009 regularized about 216,000 persons.
Though immigration is a growing phenomenon in Latin America and the Caribbean, emigration remains the dominant topic regarding population movements in the region. From 2003 to 2009, almost 950,000 people per year emigrated from the Americas to OECD countries. The report surprisingly shows that the levels of unauthorized migration from the Americas to OECD countries have remained relatively stable during the worst economic crisis in the post-World War II era.
Finally, regarding asylum applications in the Americas, the regions of Latin America and the Caribbean are not considered targets for people seeking asylum from persecution, and many of these countries receive fewer than 20 applications. Asylum applications in Latin America and the Caribbean grew to about 43,000 in 2009, a 73% increase from 2008 and a 400% increase from 2000. In contrast, Canada received about 34,000 applications in 2009 and the United States received 38,000. The main countries receiving applications were Ecuador, with nearly 36,000 and Venezuela, with about 2,900. These requests came largely from Colombian nationals from conflict zones near the border regions of the country. Still, excluding applications from Colombia, asylum applications are still a rare phenomenon in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Ü Eurasylum: In recognition of the vital role which migration plays in the development of the citizens and societies of the Americas, as well as the challenges this phenomenon presents to its Member States, the Organization of American States (OAS) established a Migration and Development Program (MiDE) in 2008. Can you guide us through some of the key elements and most noteworthy outcomes of this programme to date?
Ü Jose Miguel Insulza: I could describe the progress that the OAS has achieved so far in four different moments: the first one was the creation of the Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families laid out in the framework of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 1997. The second one would be the approval of the Inter-American Program for the Protection of Human Rights of Migrants in 2005 by the OAS General Assembly, in which States agreed that the promotion and protection of human rights of migrants is compatible with the sovereign rights of each one of the OAS Member States to control their borders and enforce its laws. The third moment corresponds to the installation of the OAS Special Committee on Migration Issues (CEAM) at the OAS Permanent Council in 2007, which became the only multilateral forum for political dialogue in the Hemisphere specializing in migration issues.
The fourth and final moment is the creation of the Migration and Development Program (MiDE). You might wonder – why create MiDE when the OAS already had a Program for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights of Migrants? As it happened, the Inter-American Program and the Rapporteurship only covered the protection of rights of migrants, and we required a tool to help promote the development of public policies in which migrants and their families are the focus.
In this sense, MiDE has placed a special emphasis on the dissemination of knowledge on legislation, policies, programs, and statistics on migration issues for diverse social actors involved in the area. This is done through the development of information systems and databases such as the Continuous Reporting System on International Migration in the Americas (SICREMI), the Interactive Map of Temporary Employment Programs for Migrant Workers (MINPET) and the Database of Migration Legislation in the Americas (MILEX).
Ü Eurasylum: Another key activity of the OAS in the field of international migration relates to issues of trafficking in human beings. In particular, you have been active in increasing awareness and supporting migration and law enforcement agencies, judges and prosecutors in the Central American Region in the fight against trafficking in persons. Can you highlight some of the key initiatives and outcomes of the OAS’ involvement in the fight against THB?
Ü Jose Miguel Insulza: As far as the prevention and combat of trafficking in persons is concerned, the program was established in 2004 under the Department of Public Security by Executive Order No. 05-13. Our Organization is deeply committed to combating the heinous crime of trafficking in persons in the Western Hemisphere, and it accomplishes this objective by means of a two-pronged and coordinated approach: at the political level, through various meetings and agreements between the member states; and on a programmatic level, through the various projects and activities executed by the General Secretariat.
At the political level, the General Assembly of the OAS has adopted resolutions expressing the commitment of member states to improve their capacity to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for trafficking in persons and to provide due assistance and protection to the victims. The Organization also hosts regular gatherings of the highest-level national governments officials responsible for combating human trafficking, through a political process called the Meeting of National Authorities on Trafficking in Persons. To date, two meetings of national authorities have taken place: in Isla Margarita, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (March 2006), and in Buenos Aires, Argentina (March 2009). It is important to highlight that this month, on October 15 and 16, the Third Meeting of National Authorities on Trafficking in Persons will be convened in Guatemala City.
As a result of the first and second meetings of national authorities, a set of specific guidelines for member states to address the issue of trafficking in persons – through prevention, prosecution, protection, and international cooperation – have been established. This was brought about particularly through the “Work Plan against Trafficking in Persons in the Western Hemisphere 2010-2012”, which was adopted by the fortieth regular session of the General Assembly in Lima, Peru, in June 2010 – AG/RES.2551 (XL-O/10). On the programmatic level, the OAS provides training to combat trafficking of persons in the member states. In the past two years and in compliance with the Work Plan, the General Secretariat of the OAS has strengthened and implemented activities in three areas: capacity building, information gathering, and international cooperation.
Capacity Building: In the last two years, the General Secretariat has carried out three initiatives, specifically targeting the states of Central America and the Caribbean, and has trained over 1,000 government officials. The OAS has published gender sensitive training curricula (tool-kits) to support these activities and education initiatives.
– “Program to Strengthen the Capacity of Law Enforcement Officials, Judges, and Prosecutors in Central America and the Caribbean to Identify and Combat Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children”.
– “Capacity Development to Recognize and Address Anti-Trafficking in Persons within the Foreign Service in the Caribbean Countries”.
– “Specialized Training on Border Controls”, a program that aims at strengthening member states’ borders against transnational organized crime, including trafficking in persons.
As a direct result of these activities, a number of member states have expressed official interest in incorporating the OAS training materials into the curricula of their police academies and diplomatic academies.
Information Gathering: Also in compliance with the Work Plan, the OAS has collected information on transit routes used by groups vulnerable to trafficking and is considering a tool to prioritize preventive measures in areas where vulnerability is greatest. In addition, we have also compiled information on policies, programs, legal frameworks, and immigration controls in the member states for the identification and protection of victims of trafficking in persons.
Promoting International Cooperation: The General Secretariat has taken steps toward the construction of a national and sub-regional network of government representatives from Central America and the Caribbean to promote exchanges of information and to encourage cooperation in preventing human trafficking offenses, prosecuting the guilty, and identifying and protecting victims. It has also strengthened cooperative ties with other international organizations.
The challenge posed to the region’s states by organized crime is considerable, and the task still facing us is significant. Although important steps forward have been taken, there is still much to be done. The General Secretariat of the Organization of American States is committed to preventing and combating trafficking in persons and is at the member states’ disposal to assist in defining the lines of work that will guide our efforts in the years to come.