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As migration surges in Americas, 'funds simply aren't there' for humanitarian response, UN says

Migrants travel on a freight train, arriving in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023.
Christian Chavez
Migrants travel on a freight train, arriving in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023.

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Countries in the Americas are reeling as the flow of migrants reaches historic levels, but international "funds simply aren't there" for humanitarian needs, a United Nations official said.

Ugochi Daniels, deputy director of operations for the International Organization for Migration, said a larger and coordinated regional effort is necessary for a longer term solution to the steady movement of vulnerable people toward the United States.

But other global crises — among them the war in Ukraine, conflict in Sudan, Morocco's earthquake — have pulled global funds away, Daniels said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press.

The U.N. estimated that this year through August, it needed $55.2 billion to take on compounding global crises, but it received funds for only 71% of that.

A growing number of countries like Panama and Costa Rica are pleading for international aid in handling the flood of migrants, though Daniels would not say who should pay the tab.

"Obviously, it's not an issue that can be solved by any one country," she said. "The unprecedented flows in the region require attention — international attention."

The flood of migrants to the Mexico-U.S. border has swelled in recent years, with recent days seeing thousands of people crossing daily just into Texas. In fiscal year 2017, U.S. authorities stopped migrants 310,531 times on the border, while in the first 11 months in fiscal year 2023, they recorded more than 1.8 million stops.

The crush of people — many of them Venezuelans — is overwhelming Latin American governments, many of which lack the funds to take care of their own citizens. On Wednesday, Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves announced a state of emergency due to the number of people entering the country.

"We all know that there is a migration crisis throughout the entire American continent. We are fundamentally a country of passage for migrants, people who come, who pass through Costa Rica largely trying to reach the United States," Chaves said.

Lack of aid dollars is not a new problem, and has been especially notable in the mass migration from Venezuela.

As more than 7.2 million people have fled the South American nation's economic and political turmoil, the mass migration has received pennies on the dollar in aid compared to other global migration crises like Syria's. For years, countries receiving the bulk of Venezuelan migrants like Colombia, Peru and Ecuador have pleaded for more support.

In September, a U.N. report said that $400 million was required to address the Venezuelan migration, but that the international body had received only a third of that.

"Aid dollars are clearly insufficient," said Juan Pappier, deputy director of the Americas for Human Rights Watch. "But it's also a reflection of the insufficient attention that Latin America gets, and the insufficient interest that Latin American governments have in properly addressing this issue."

Pappier said the lack of aid to help pay for migrant services generated resentment and xenophobia in many South American nations, which led to more restrictive policies. Such policies pushed Venezuelans to travel north through routes like the Darien Gap, helping fuel the new flood of migration to the U.S., he said.

Analysts and Daniels note the international response has been defined by largely short-term patchwork measures.

Pressures by the U.S. on countries to keep migratory flows at bay and create new barriers has produced temporary pauses of arrivals to the border, but that has been followed by new surges, said Adam Isacson, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America.

"They're just looking for new ways to keep pushing the numbers down for as long as they can," Isacson said. "It's not permanent, it's super super short term."

Daniels said governments really need to address the root causes of migration, such as poverty, corruption, crime and political repression.

But in the meantime, she said, instead of putting up restrictions, governments should do more to help migrants, such as creating work programs. She also urged countries to provide legal pathways for migrants to travel, so they don't have to turn to smugglers, which she said rake in between $7 billion and $10 billion a year annually just on the U.S.-Mexico border.

She urged countries to resolve their squabbling over the flood of migrants, and praised Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for announcing this week that he would convene a meeting of 10 regional nations to discuss the recent wave of migrants.

"I've heard some people talking about migration control, closing borders, and we know that it doesn't work. We know that what people will do is still find a way to move, but it will be more risky and they'll be more vulnerable," Daniels said. "You can't control migration; you can manage it."

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