Building on Asylum Access Ecuador’s regional advocacy work, we created Asylum Access Latin America (AALA) to coordinate operations across the region. As part of the global Asylum Access family, AALA is working to improve due process and access to justice for forced migrants in Latin America.
In 2007, Asylum Access Ecuador began began offering legal aid and support to mostly-Colombian refugees. Beginning in 2015, AALA will be implementing new projects in Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica, which together host over 40,000 UN-registered refugees, with many more living as undocumented and unprotected migrants.
Forced migration, and the resulting human rights abuses often experienced by vulnerable groups, has long been a priority for human rights advocates in the region. Organized crime and gang violence in Central America and Mexico have generated a prolonged period of regional instability. Transnational criminal networks have engaged in forced labor, extortion, land seizures and assassinations with impunity, forcing many to flee across borders to seek refuge in their relatively peaceful neighbors, countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama.
Despite compliance complying with the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, many forced migrants in the region are perceived as economic migrants and treated as such. Government authorities may provide short-term legal status on humanitarian grounds, but this is no substitute for refugee status and refugee rights, which recognizes a refugee’s right to seek safety, access lawful employment, and obtain protection from further injustice.
Furthermore, the relatively comprehensive refugee laws that guarantee basic refugee rights protection in many countries, including Ecuador, Mexico and Costa Rica, including the right to work, are not always applied in practice. Several key protection gaps exist, particularly concerning access to due process in the refugee status determination (RSD) process, irregular detention, access to , and protection from further injustice.