August 11, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo Cohen and Panamanian Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes at the Ministerial Conference on Migration and Protection Session on Stabilization of Communities and Post-COVID Recovery

8 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Panama City, Panama

Westin Playa Bonita Panama

PRESIDENT COHEN:  (Via interpreter) (In progress) irregular migration.  We have been creating tourism and increasing (inaudible) irregular migration going through the borders  (inaudible).  Given these conditions, we have – there are victims of criminal organizations.  They’re exposed to multiple risks that attempt against human rights.

Facing this reality, we cannot be indifferent.  Our countries also work in a coordinated manner to find solutions in the short, medium, and long range.  We have an international humanitarian approach with shared responsibility among the countries of origin, transit, and final destination of these irregular migrants.  That is why we have to strengthen the policies of the region to be able to drive the economic growth in our countries to generate human growth opportunities and to create better living conditions for our peoples.

It is fundamental, achieving joint agreements and articulated agreements to tackle this migration phenomenon (inaudible) humanitarian organizations.  It is opportune to highlight what I mentioned already in the General Assembly of the United Nations back in September.  Irregular migration is possibly the (inaudible).  It demands a joint effort of coordinated strategies and enough resources to anticipate the humanitarian crisis in the region of great preparations.

Ladies and gentlemen, Panama is a (inaudible) standing in the flood of this irregular migration.  We have created a lot of efforts to tackle proactively and positively and with a humanitarian approach.  And we have coordinated (inaudible) states acting immediately and facing this challenge with (inaudible) because we understand that we cannot just stay talking, facing a problem like this.

Today I reaffirm Panama’s commitment to work jointly with friendly countries as strategic partners in the search of joint solutions with cross-sectional policies and concrete actions that will promote regular migrations, orderly and safe, respecting human rights.  I do appreciate all of you here present for your participation, your will, and determination to work in a regional integration to tackle the irregular migration phenomenon within the context of international migration.  Thank you so much.

MR VASQUEZ:  (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, having heard the opening remarks of His Excellency the President of Panama, Mr. Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, we open the floor to Erika Mouynes, Foreign Relations Minister, who will open the ministerial regional meeting on migration.

FOREIGN MINISTER MOUYNES:  (Via interpreter)  Good morning, everyone.  I would like to thank one more time your attendance, for just by being here is a clear support to the initiative to tackle the impact on irregular migration in a continental manner.  We all care, we have made this a priority, and we need to work together.  Migration is a current phenomenon and it is a complex one.  It is a world phenomenon.  And this phenomenon in particular responds to particular joint circumstances that magnify the COVID pandemic, climate change, war, conflict, and economic issues.  By working together with our neighboring countries and the United States, we are trying to approach this phenomenon in a responsible, effective, and humanitarian-focused way for which we have advocated since the very beginning, like our president said.

Figures are clear.  In August of 2021, influx through the Darién border came to a peak of 2,800 migrants in a day.  Today, it doesn’t go over 100 daily.  So we have motives to be optimistic, but we cannot falter because, one more time, the figures are still increasing.  Reality is harsh, and these events of – which are unexpected create migration waves and compels us to be prepared not only to be able to offer assistance but also not to have a negative impact.  There will be always cataclysms, new conflicts, but we can create effective and long-lasting control with a regional and continental strategy, but it has to be a permanent role.

Today we are providing continuity to something that we already began.  So today before we begin we should have three set objectives: one, coming to agreement in a working framework that will facilitate the standardization of migration policies in the region; number two, broaden the efforts of collaboration to fight trans-country organized crime; and number three, to concrete the cooperation dynamics among states, international organizations, and development banking in the region to have the structural basis to stop the structural basis that prompt migration.

Friends, your presence here is important, and it conveys the will to work together, sharing this responsibility to approach this challenge that is going to define the 21st century.  It will be collaboration, commitment, and consensus that always works.  Today we have an opportunity to speak with one voice, being certain that our meeting will mark a milestone in the history of our continent.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good morning, everyone, and Erika, thank you so much for bringing us all together.  We are all living what is truly a historic challenge, and that is the fact that more people on our planet are on the move, forcibly displaced from their homes, than at any time since the Second World War.  That is the magnitude of the challenge, and we feel it strongly in our own hemisphere.  We’re focusing on different aspects of the problem today.

This morning in this first session, I know we want to focus on one particularly urgent aspect of the challenge:  How can we more effectively work together to help stabilize and strengthen communities across the region that are generously hosting large numbers of migrants and refugees?  The millions of people who have made the difficult and often dangerous decision to leave their homes we know do so for a variety of reasons – poverty, a lack of economic opportunity, repressive governance, corruption, political upheaval, conflict and insecurity.  All of these challenges already there are exacerbated by COVID-19 and by the climate crisis.

Ultimately, we all know this: the only lasting, sustainable response to irregular migration is to tackle its root causes.  But that takes time.  And in the meantime, many cities and towns simply don’t have the resources they need to provide for their own citizens, much less meeting the needs of migrants who are with them.

As Erika said, we know that no country, no community can solve a challenge as complicated as irregular migration alone.  We have to work together to support the front-line communities hosting migrants and refugees with increased resources for public health and safety, for stronger social services, for more resilient infrastructure, for opportunity for all – for migrants and host communities alike.

We’re making some progress.  Just to cite a few examples.  Colombia has registered more than 1.9 million Venezuelans for temporary protected status, and more than 600,000 have officially received that status.  That gives them documentation and legal protections that are critical for integrating into their local community.

It also means that more migrants can be vaccinated against COVID-19, which is critical to ending the pandemic and boosting economic recovery.

In that same spirit, the United States is expediting family-based petitions at our embassies throughout Central America so that migrants with family members in the United States are able to go there sponsored by the family members, and they can move much more quickly through the process as a result.

We’re also expanding visas for eligible groups – for example, 20,000 additional H2B temporary agricultural worker visas that Secretary Mayorkas recently announced.  And a critical piece of this is the role that multilateral finance and development institutions have been doing to provide more resources to front-line communities.  We have to work together to bring these efforts to scale throughout the hemisphere.

Again, with some examples.  The Inter-American Development Bank is boosting public health education and social protection in migrant host cities in Ecuador.  In Belize, the bank is running programs to increase educational opportunity for girls both from migrant families and from local communities.  And again, this is such a critical piece.  The support that we need to give to migrants we have to find ways also to make sure that local communities are getting support, getting help – are benefitting.  Otherwise, we know that none of this will be sustainable – politically, economically, socially.

In five Colombian cities, the bank is facilitating housing and helping local governments build institutional capacity to assist migrants, both of which are critical for them to integrate more seamlessly into our communities.  The World Bank’s Global Concessional Financing Facility has been instrumental in providing development assistance to countries worldwide that are affected by the refugee crisis, including economic and social support to Colombian communities hosting Venezuelan refugees.

So programs like these help point the way forward.  We need that kind of cross-cutting coordination – local and national governments, multilateral institutions, businesses, civil society – all working toward safe, orderly, and humane migration throughout the region and supporting the communities so that they can do right by these vulnerable populations.

Of course, even as we’re doing this, as I said at the outset, we have to remain resolutely focused on addressing root causes, in particular some of the economic drivers of migration, and there, again, we’re making some progress.  To name just one example, Vice President Harris’ call to action to the private sector just several months ago has rallied $1.2 billion in investments to support long-term social and economic progress in northern Central America.

Finally, many of us will meet again in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas in just a few weeks’ time in June.  There, we’ll have an opportunity to address the deeper issues driving irregular migration like improving public health, strengthening our democracies.  By adopting a Los Angeles declaration on migration and protection that sets forth our shared principles for a collaborative, coordinated response to migration and forced displacement as President Biden has proposed, our countries can take our partnership on this issue to the next level of effectiveness, and we can make a profound difference in the lives of our most vulnerable fellow citizens and in the future of our shared region.

So I hope we can use our time together as well today to lay the groundwork for a strong declaration by our leaders when they gather in California in June.  But to each and every one of you, we’ve been working together over many months now at the United Nations, Colombia, here in Panama.  Thank you.  Thank you for your commitment.  Thank you for your leadership.  Thank you for your partnership as we work together to promote safe, orderly, and humane migration across the Americas.  (Applause.)

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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