Per the Mexican Refugee Assistance Commission’s (COMAR), 131,448 people filed for asylum in 2021, an 87 per cent increase from the 70,351 filed in 2019 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic causing a dip to 41,000 in 2020. Requests from Haitians, which grew from 5,500 in 2019 to more than 51,000 in 2021, accounted for more than any other nationality. Hondurans, who previously had the most requests, filed more than 36,300 claims in 2021, or about 6,200 more claims than those filed in 2019.
More than two-thirds of the claims filed were in the city of Tapachula near the Guatemalan border, overwhelming COMAR and leading to long wait times, complaints from migrants and frequent migrant caravan departures.
According to Costa Rican authorities, the 53,000 refugee applications from Nicaraguans filed in 2021 amid deteriorating conditions are a record number, with claims rising sharply ahead of November 2021 elections in Nicaragua. Officials say that the number is on par with annual claims filed during the conflict in Nicaragua in the 1980s. Following widespread protests in 2018, requests rose to 31,600 before dipping in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
SOUTH AMERICA: FLOODING
Santa Cruz, the largest department in Bolivia, declared an emergency following weeks of heavy seasonal rains that have led to flooding in various municipalities, several of which have also declared disasters. Santa Cruz’s declaration is the first among the departments experiencing flooding that has affected 60,000 people. Authorities continue with search, rescue and relief operations.
Rains continue to pound the centraleastern Brazilian states of Bahia and Minas Gerais, with national authorities confirming that the resultant floods have affected nearly 800,000 people in Bahía, causing 26 deaths and 520 injuries and displacing more than 102,000 people. Civil Protection in Minas Gerais reports six deaths and at least 16,200 people displaced.
Various countries in the region are reporting massive and sudden increases in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks following the holiday season and endof-year festivities and the confirmed presence of the Omicron variant in no less than 27 countries and territories. The bulk of the countries and territories experiencing this growth are in South America and the Caribbean. Notable increases between the weekly caseloads from 29 December 2021 to 5 January 2022 and 22 to 29 December 2021 include Suriname with 811 per cent, Guyana with 701 per cent, Paraguay with 342 per cent, Dominican Republic with 335 per cent, Cuba with 321 per cent, Costa Rica with 285 per cent, Jamaica with 284 per cent, Belize with 277 per cent, Uruguay with 227 per cent and Colombia with 213 per cent.
Some countries have reported record highs in daily case totals since 29 December 2021 as well. Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Panama, Peru, Suriname and Uruguay have all reported daily case totals that have either exceeded previous records since March 2020, in some cases by nearly triple that of previous peaks, or surpassed previous daily counts during the same week by similar orders of magnitude, indicating near-unchecked spread.
Various countries are either implementing or weighing the implementation of new COVID-19 measures to reduce the spread of further cases, pending the outcome of current epidemiological curves. Hospitalization and/or intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy rates, which PAHO expects to increase in coming weeks, are varying from country to country depending on their vaccination coverages and the size of their unvaccinated populations.