FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Atlas of Migration: the majority of migrants from Central America come from rural areas

ECLAC and FAO published an in-depth look at migration in Northern Central America.

Atlas of Migration: the majority of migrants from Central America come from rural areas

December 12nd, 2018, Santiago Chile - ECLAC and FAO’s new Atlas of Migration in Northern Central America shows that the majority of migrants from the countries of the Northern Triangle -Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador- come from rural areas.

The report, which analyzes the main characteristics of migration in the subregion, was presented today at a press conference in the frame of the Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for Migration.

“Massive irregular migration of the kind that we have been seeing in the past months is a direct consequence of food insecurity, climate shocks, the erosion of the social fabric, and lack of economic opportunities in the rural villages and territories of these countries”, explained Kostas Stamoulis, Assistant Director-General of the Economic and Social Development Department at FAO at the launch of the Atlas.

According to the report, between 2000 and 2012, there was a substantive increase -of almost 59%- in the number of people migrating from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“We have seen images of floods of people fleeing from despair. Many have chosen to trek thirty-seven hundred kilometers with their children on their backs, across two or three borders, under torrential rains, wading tropical rivers, rather than stay in their places of origin”, said Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC.

Why? Poverty and unemployment are fundamental factors explained Bárcena, especially rural poverty. “77% of rural inhabitants in Guatemala are poor; poverty in Honduras affects 82 % of rural inhabitants”.

According to the report, violence and insecurity are also important factors driving people, as well as family reunification: people travel either to flee insecurity or to reunite with their families.

The third mayor cause of migration is climate change: “There is no questions that climate change is playing a very big role. FAO has shown that coffee and corn plantations have been affected by climate change, and they are staple crops for these countries”, Bárcena explained.

Intimate ties between rural areas and migration

According to the ECLAC/FAO report, there are deep ties between the rural world and the current trends in migration: two thirds of the unaccompanied minors from El Salvador left from rural areas; slightly more than half of the remittances sent to Guatemala by migrants go to rural households; only 11 % of returnees from Honduras and 15 % Mexico go back to cities, the rest go back to rural areas.

“The rural territories of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico can definitely support the livelihoods of the majority of the families that today are under pressure to leave.  We say this because we know it to be true, from the experience of many countries around the world that, with the support of FAO and other partners, have revitalized their rural areas”, said Kostas Stamoulis.

ECLAC and FAO called on countries to create the conditions for rural families to have the right to decide if they want to leave or they want to stay.

“Is it better, more effective, to solve this problem in the origin, in the rural villages and territories, or is it preferable to deal with the consequences? asked Stamoulis.  “We know that it is more effective to solve the problem by promoting food security, resilience to climate change, community organizations, and rural development.”

“Migration has been part of development since time immemorial; it is a positive force for the development of nations. We do not propose that we must retain all rural people in their territories forever, but we do propose that migration must be a voluntary choice and not a decision forced by intolerable conditions of despair and abandonment”, concluded Stamoulis.