Colombia deported almost 34,000 illegal migrants in 2016, almost four times more than 2015 according to statistics released by Migration Colombia last week.
The total number of 33,981 saw the deportation on average of at least 92 illegal migrants per day, a significant increase from 2015 during which 8,855 people were deported.
The dramatic swell in numbers from 2015 can be attributed mainly to an influx of migrants from the two Caribbean islands of Haiti (20,336) and Cuba (8,167) who entered Colombia in the hope of securing safe passage to the United States.
“Colombia, its geographical position, is a must for any migrant who seeks to reach Central or North America. We are not the cause, nor the origin of this phenomenon ,” said the director of Colombia Migration, Christian Kruger reported El Espectador newspaper.
The majority of migrants access Colombia through routes taken from Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, where they are placed under the watch of “coyote gangs”, human traffickers who charge up to $10,000 in order to take them to the Mexican-U.S border.
In addition to the migrants from the Caribbean, there were 874 Indians, 570 Congolese and 553 Nepalese, also seeking to reach the United States.
Colombian authorities claimed that they are currently finding roughly between 1,500 and 2,000 illegal migrants per month across various human trafficking routes throughout the nation that will lead them to Panama in order to access Central America and ultimately the US border.
The first is on the southwestern border of Colombia; there is another in the east, especially north of Santander, and a third route enters from the Amazon. The exit route- the golf of Uraba– generally stays the same, from where they will try to get to Panama and continue to North America.
Christian Kruger- Director of Colombia Migration
The statistics from migration authorities revealed that the migrant crisis was at its worst in August 2015 when 9,719 people were deported mainly resulting from the arrival of hundreds of Cuban migrants, many of whom were deported from Turbo on the Pacific coast.
The recent wave of Cubans migrating to the US comes following the improvement of relations between the two countries as they seek to avail of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which grants any Cuban entry to the US.
In the case of Haitian migrants, who made up a large proportion of the overall total, authorities explained that up to 80,000 received visas for Brazil in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake but had since seen jobs related to the construction of arenas for the World Cup and Olympic Games come to an end.
Many of the 20,336 Haitian deportees were seeking to reach the US or Canada to find further employment.
Many countries granted visas to Haitians, including Brazil, which let in close to 80,000 Haitians to work as builders in preparation for the Brazilian Olympic Games and the Football World Cup. When the construction was finished, they were left jobless and began leaving for the United States and Canada.
Director of Colombia Migration
In 2016, Colombia came under strong criticism for its deportation policy, particularly in relation to Cuban migrants with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) claiming that the Colombian state had failed to meet its international obligations on human rights particularly in the “protection of the life, integrity and security of all migrants under their jurisdiction.”
The ongoing problem is a reflection of inadequate policies to regulate the movement of people but according to lawyer Maria Teresa Palacios, who has spent 11 years investigating illegal immigration, there will always be demand from those searching a better life in North America, making it hard for the authorities to stop the flow of human trafficking.
The raids (on human trafficking) are a mechanism against the gangs that are trafficking migrants. But strong restrictions put in place at the borders and harsh migratory policies create an opportunity for traffickers to take advantage of people’s desperation.
Maria Teresa Palacios