Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


March 11, 2021 - Washington, DC

Thank you very much. It is a great pleasure to be with all of you here and have an opportunity to share our views and to find the best ways to engage the private sector to address the challenges associated with irregular migration in our region. Thank you for making time to join this dialogue, and for your contribution to this agenda.

The Americas currently faces complex displacement scenarios, given the recent dynamics of mixed migratory movements and forced displacement at the intraregional level.

The challenges associated with irregular migration start with the numbers.

At the end of 2019, there were 70.3 million international migrants in the Americas, including 58.6 million in North America and 11.7 million in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The number of displaced persons across borders in the last decade quadrupled, creating massive displacement emergencies across the region.

At the OAS, we closely observe at least three migratory systems.

The first of these, and the largest, is the displacement of more than 5.5 Million Venezuelans that have fled the prolonged political, economic and humanitarian situation in the country.

A second involves the displacement of nearly one million Central Americans particularly from the Northern Triangle fleeing the deteriorating security conditions. This scenario is complicated by the recent trend of the “caravanas migrantes” with large groups of families, pregnant women, unaccompanied minors and the elderly migrating by foot or by vehicle from Central America towards the North.

And finally, the more than 100,000 Nicaraguans that have fled mainly to Costa Rica, escaping persecution, human rights violations and intolerable social conditions.

Many of these people were compelled to flee their countries because they had no choice. Making the journey as an irregular migrant was the only way to escape from poverty and precarious living conditions, gang related violence and organized crime, the consequences of natural and man-made disasters.

These massive migratory crises have significant implications in the countries and communities of origin, transit and destination.

The pandemic has affected us all, but those who have been most affected are vulnerable groups including migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and forcibly displaced populations, especially those in an irregular migratory situation. For example, migrants lacking regular status in many countries have found it difficult to access health care amidst the government-enforced lockdowns due to lack of information, limited access and the fear of being reported.

At the same time, the pandemic has made it more difficult for migrants and displaced populations to access the labor market, social safety nets, and aid. While they face the same health threats as everyone else, their precarious living conditions and lack of access to basic services such as water, sanitation and nutrition exacerbates their vulnerability.

They are also more likely to face poor and crowded working conditions within the informal economy, as well as barriers that make adhering to public health measures during the pandemic very hard for them. For example, many irregular migrants live in overcrowded houses and apartments to save money to send their families via remittances.

The most comprehensive negotiated framework for cooperation on international migration, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, treats addressing irregular migration as a necessary complement of its goal of achieving regular and safe migratory processes.

Our region has a longstanding tradition of international protection for people forced to migrate for various reasons, based on solidarity and international cooperation, but also through an extensive series of Inter-American and regional instruments.

Now more than ever the need to share burdens and responsibilities remains high on the global agenda, and certainly in our hemisphere.

We believe that irregular migration can be tackled by addressing the specific factors that trigger someone to leave their home. However, this is a task that no government can do by itself and where the building of public-private partnerships with the business community can be instrumental.

Public-private partnerships can be effective in addressing irregular migration in at least two ways:

First, by addressing the root causes that drive migration and ultimately reducing the number of people embarking on dangerous journeys, whose absence resonates through their communities. On this, the private sector is in a unique strategic position as market leaders, policy influencers, and innovators, with the capacity to achieve social impact and transform these populations’ livelihoods.

Second, once these new arrivals settle, public-private sector partnerships can help find ways to regularize these populations via work opportunities and job creation. All refugees and migrants regardless of their immigration status have an important role to play in the economy and with the right support and opportunities, they can quickly become contributors to their host communities. The private sector is a critical piece of the puzzle in order to achieve this.

Finally, private sector actors can also be powerful voices in combating xenophobia and promoting a culture of tolerance, respect of human rights and hospitality toward all migrants and refugees.

Let me close by referring to an example of an initiative where we are engaging with private sector actors to address the challenges of protection of these populations in the Central America region. The Comprehensive Regional Framework for Protection and Solutions, called the MIRPS for short - is a state led initiative of by 7 countries that have come together to address forced displacement in Central America and Mexico that involves large movements of internally displaced people, refugees, migrants and returnees across the entire region.

This mechanism is supported jointly by UNCHR and the OAS.

With the understanding that this endeavor requires a multi-stakeholder approach, during 2020 and at the request of MIRPS countries, we at the OAS have been leading a strategy to build bridges with the business community, opening spaces for dialogue to share experiences and discuss opportunities for collaboration in addressing and responding to the needs of forced displaced populations in this region.

In carrying on this work, we pinpointed a first set of 15 private sector entities in the region with the capacity to generate a positive impact in addressing forced displacement crisis affecting the countries. These institutions have prioritized an organizational interest to contribute to the regional response to the crisis.

We have also compiled a list of initiatives in which the business community was already generating solutions with programs intended for internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, refugees, returnees and deportees in need of protection aiming at their employability, vocational training, and entrepreneurship. We have also identified specific areas such as the coffee sector which plays a central role in the markets of most MIRPS countries.

We believe we can support all of these initiatives with a “whole-of-the-OAS” approach, in other words, leveraging the knowledge, network and expertise of all areas of the OAS, in its four pillars, to bring positive solutions to the countries facing irregular migration.

We see great potential for the private sector working with governments to propose innovative solutions to address the root causes of irregular migration and explore opportunities for opening additional regular channels to allow for the regularization of migrants. This joint effort could also boost the social and economic inclusion for these populations and help to fight the scourges of xenophobia and discrimination.

Our motto of "more rights for more people" means leaving no one behind and that includes all migrants, regardless of their immigration status.

Thank you very much, my friends.