This information about the region in 2021 is an extended version of the regional chapter in the Global Report 2021, which you can download here. The Global Report also contains information on funding and thematic chapters on UNHCR's work to achieve its Global Strategic Priorities and other initiatives.
The Americas region hosted 18.4 million people of concern to UNHCR at the end of 2021, 20% of the global total. UNHCR supported governments’ digitization of national asylum systems and provided technical support to ensure access to asylum as COVID-19 border restrictions were gradually lifted. UNHCR advocated for national COVID-19 vaccination programmes to include forcibly displaced and stateless people, and many did so. UNHCR worked with civil society to support access to temporary collective shelters and strengthened access to individual shelters with rental programmes. 425 shelter and settlements projects, mainly in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, benefited 273,000 people. In Mexico alone, UNHCR supported 148 shelters, mainly from civil society, in 44 cities. UNHCR conducted a regional gender-based violence assessment and supported 45,000 survivors of gender-based violence across the continent.
UNHCR co-coordinated the world’s largest response plan, the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP) together with IOM, with inter-agency assistance and support to 3.3 million people in 17 countries. In the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, UNHCR supported implementation of the Humanitarian Response Plan and led the protection and shelter clusters, assisting more than 2.93 million people.
Through its co-lead role in the Issue-based Coalition on Human Mobility, UNHCR contributed to a common regional approach to address the challenges of increased mixed and onward movements. In 2021, more than 133,000 people risked their lives travelling through the dense jungle separating South and Central America. A record number of encounters were also reported at the US south-western border.
UNHCR worked with Colombia’s Public Ministry and Civil Registry to provide information and legal support to more than 80,000 people, undertook a project on pedagogy and protection for nearly 8,500 Venezuelan refugee and migrant children, and worked with Colombia’s Victims Unit to improve data on vulnerability levels among IDPs and on possible linkages with durable solutions.
Under the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework (MIRPS), UNHCR and the Organization of American States supported the response in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama, ensuring protection and solutions for 916,000 displaced people by improving mechanisms for reception and admission, responding to humanitarian and protection needs, supporting host countries and communities and enhancing durable solutions.
UNHCR expanded resettlement opportunities for refugees from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Colombia and Nicaragua. The implementation of the Protection Transfer Agreement in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras continued to be used as a protection tool for people at heightened protection risk. UNHCR supported the further expansion of complementary pathways in the region including for family reunification from Northern Central America, labour mobility schemes for refugees in Colombia and Peru, and expansion of education opportunities.
UNHCR signed a memorandum of understanding with the Inter-American Development Bank and enhanced coordination with the World Bank to produce regular statistics on IDPs in Honduras, funded by the Joint Data Center. UNHCR is also playing a catalytic role in materializing arrangements between international financial institutions (mainly concessional loans) and host governments.
The prevention and eradication of statelessness made progress in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and the United States, which pledged to adopt a definition of statelessness and establish a statelessness determination procedure.
The Americas region has 239 Global Refugee Forum pledges, including 33 that were added at the 2021 High-Level Officials Meeting. UNHCR has confirmed progress on 125 pledges, 52% of the total, with 21% fulfilled.
Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Peru have initiated different types of regularization processes to provide documentation and improve access to rights. In 2021, more than 500,000 Venezuelan applicants were approved for some form of regular stay, and more than 3 million refugees and migrants could potentially benefit from regularization. Colombia has registered more than 1.8 million applicants for Temporary Protection Status. 1.2 million have completed biometric registration and over 300,000 have been approved and received their documentation.
As part of the regional application of the Global Compact on Refugees and the MIRPS, UNHCR supported Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama in responding to the increased needs of people seeking international protection, including by bolstering access to asylum systems, regular stay arrangements and documentation, and via inclusion in social protection schemes and provision of shelter, cash assistance or social security.
Mexico linked over 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers with formal employment opportunities under a relocation programme managed in coordination with national authorities such as the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance. Local communities benefited from the increased economic activity while refugees employed by more than 260 companies contributed $5 million in taxes. With support from private sector foundations, and in collaboration with federal and local authorities, UNHCR helped with temporary housing, cultural orientation, vocational training, school enrolment and job placement.
Key results and trends in 2021
UNHCR'S programmatic results
UNHCR'S COVID-19 response
Consequences of underfunding
In 2021, the region’s budget of $730.8 million was 60% funded. COVID-19 and a lack of access to asylum and legal stay drove up humanitarian needs, fueling demand for cash assistance and core relief items. This had to be partially funded from unearmarked contributions, a precious resource reserved for cases of greatest need. Among the beneficiaries of this flexible funding were 10,000 refugees and asylum seekers living with chronic medical conditions or in extreme vulnerability in Costa Rica, and Venezuelans needing help to obtain Temporary Protection Status in Colombia. There was still a shortfall for basic needs, including food, medicine, hygiene items and basic clothing. In the Southern Cone, 15,000 vulnerable families did not receive cash assistance, 28,000 people could not access business/labour market training and opportunities, and 1,600 people without shelter slept rough in the streets. Many refugees and asylum seekers faced eviction, exploitation and abuse, with limited or no access to health care or social protection. In Costa Rica, budget constraints limited assistance to Nicaraguans who had fled the country.
In the context of increased mixed movements, refugees, asylum seekers and others in need of protection were exposed to extreme risks at sea and when travelling on foot through deserts and wilderness. Underfunding meant UNHCR could not strengthen identification and referral mechanism at borders, reinforce reception capacities for high-risk cases, nor support their access to documentation and alternative stay arrangements.
The funding gap impeded the protection of vulnerable children and adolescents in Central America and Mexico, and some countries in the Caribbean and the Southern Cone. UNHCR and its partners had reduced capacity to identify children needing specialized protection; to provide such protection; and could not adequately support family reunifications. The response to gender-based violence also suffered, with less support for survivors’ recovery and empowerment. In Colombia, UNHCR’s interventions were limited to a few communities, leaving many needs uncovered and vulnerable people exposed to risks.
The Government of Canada with the support of UNHCR and IOM organized an International Donors’ Conference in solidarity with refugees and migrants from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to address the underfunded needs. Also, the first Solidarity Event for Forcibly Displaced persons and Host communities in Central America and Mexico was organized by the Governments of Costa Rica and Spain in the margins of the 30th Anniversary of the Central American Integration System.
Budget by pillar
Budget and expenditure
Key achievements and impact
Providing life-saving assistance
Registration by governments continued remotely across the region, resuming in person in a few countries. Lack of documentation hindered access to basic services and often to health services. UNHCR provided technical support to governments to ensure access to asylum in the region as borders gradually reopened after some COVID-19 preventive measures were lifted. The UNHCR population registration and identity management ecosystem (PRIMES) enabled the identification of people of concern, the delivery of assistance, services and protection, facilitation of durable solutions and prevention of fraud. UNHCR and partners registered 766,000 people of concern in the region, and UNHCR engaged with governments to support the digitization of national asylum systems.
In line with its global data transformation strategy, UNHCR standardized high frequency surveys in 13 countries. UNHCR is now using multiple data collection methods, including interviews in person or by telephone, interview embedded in the case management process (linked to PRIMES) and self-administered online questionnaires to cover core regional questions and Sustainable Development Goal indicators. UNHCR started to work with the Central American Integration System, to advocate for and support inclusion of forcibly displaced people in national statistical systems.
Cash assistance increased in its scope and reach, and new delivery methods were added, through remote cash delivery arrangements engaging the private sector for financial and mobile cash transfers. 119,000 households were supported with cash to meet basic needs including shelter, food, water, electricity and transportation.
Ensuring access to protection
UNHCR continued supporting the strengthening of asylum systems across the region. In 2021, more than 500,000 new asylum applications were registered in the Americas where more than 2.3 million asylum claims are pending decisions by national asylum systems. With more than 130,000 asylum applications, Mexico became the fourth-biggest receiving asylum country in 2021. UNHCR continued working closely with national governments to expand access to protection alternatives and to promote and implement alternative legal stay arrangements.
UNHCR worked closely with IOM , UNICEF and other UN agencies through the Issue-based Coalition on Human Mobility in consolidating a common regional approach and providing concrete support to authorities and UN Country Teams to address the challenges emerging from increased mixed movements, including: information management (joint products), common advocacy and messaging, preparedness and response actions, sensitive entry systems, access to asylum and alternative legal stay arrangements, social inclusion and integration, voluntary return and resettlement, and visibility.
UNHCR offered technical assistance to promote the inclusion of children in national protection systems. UNHCR and UNICEF supported Mexico’s implementation of legal reforms to end child detention in migration contexts. In Colombia, UNHCR assisted 3,000 children at risk, including 520 unaccompanied and separated children. In Belize, UNHCR signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Youth Services to promote access to age-sensitive services, including protection from gender-based violence, for children seeking asylum.
As part of the gender-based violence response, UNHCR supported Aruba, Brazil, Colombia, Curaçao, Guyana and Peru to introduce innovative approaches including virtual community centres, strengthened safe houses, community-based support to people affected by the sale and exchange of sex, and the delivery of mental health and psychosocial support to indigenous populations.
UNHCR supported efforts towards the prevention and eradication of statelessness, and notable progress was made in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and the United States of America, which pledged to adopt a definition of statelessness and establish a statelessness determination procedure. UNHCR and UNICEF presented recommendations to Chile’s constitutional convention on the right to nationality and the prevention and resolution of statelessness in support of the ongoing constitutional reform.
Pursuing durable solutions
UNHCR strove to expand resettlement, both as a strategic tool to secure protection and durable solutions for individuals at heightened risk and as a concrete responsibility-sharing mechanism to support and ease the pressure on host countries. Through increased resettlement identification and processing capacities, (in terms of partners’ and UNHCR’s presence and increased staffing for registration, interviews and review and submission of cases) 4,500 people were submitted for resettlement, more than double the number in 2020.
UNHCR supported access to national education systems and opportunities. As part of its community strategy, Honduras incorporated community-building activities, sports and coaching sessions in high-risk communities affected by violence. In Brazil, UNHCR supported the process that allowed refugees and migrants to access new educational opportunities and employment through recognition of their educational background, professional experience and abilities. In El Salvador, together with the Ministry of Education, UNHCR supported an accelerated learning programme for IDPs, as well as the renovation of four public schools.
UNHCR promoted livelihood initiatives and socioeconomic inclusion. In Brazil and Mexico, 68,000 people in regions where they had little prospect of economic integration were matched with jobs available elsewhere and relocated. In Colombia, UNHCR and the Government launched a pilot programme for employment-based relocation in July 2021.
UNHCR and Manpower signed a letter of understanding in which they agreed to cooperate to strengthen the employability of people of concern to UNHCR in the region and facilitate job matching with direct and indirect interventions.
Fostering community engagement, participation and mobilization and enhancing solidarity and peaceful coexistence
UNHCR supported civil society organizations and refugee-led associations, including Coalicion por Venezuela and the Latin American and Caribbean Ecclesial Network for Migration, Displacement, Refugee and Human Trafficking (Red CLAMOR). UNHCR also worked with communities and local governments to increase connectivity by expanding public Wi-Fi services in key localities, providing data packages for community leaders and people at higher risk to ensure they can communicate.
UNHCR implemented community-based initiatives to prevent displacement and protect those at heightened risk, such as children, youth, women and girls, and community leaders. Aruba, Brazil, Colombia, Curaçao, Guyana and Peru implemented innovative approaches to better prevent and protect gender-based violence survivors, through Safe from the Start funds. These approaches included community-based support to people engaged in the sale and exchange of sex as a coping mechanism. UNHCR and Colombia’s Public Ministry and Civil Registry provided information and legal support to more than 80,000 people.
The 207 structures of the Regional Support Spaces Network provided access to information and basic services, including safe identification and referrals of people with specific needs. More than 273,000 people of concern were supported with shelter, settlement or temporary collective accommodation solutions, and 16,600 children on the move had access to child-friendly spaces. In Colombia, UNHCR opened child-friendly spaces and strengthened community dialogue on peaceful coexistence, group activities and workshops for gender-based violence prevention with children and adolescents in organized reception sites.
2021 Year-end population figures
6 million* refugees and migrants from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela globally, of whom (83%) 4.99 million hosted in countries in Latin America and the Caribbean
Asylum seekers: 971,000
2.56 million residency or regular stay permits issued across the region
*This figure includes Venezuelan migrants, refugees and asylum seekers reported through the Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela.
2021 Situation overview
With the extension of COVID-19 border closures, refugees and migrants resorted to irregular crossings, often using smuggling networks and exposing themselves to heightened protection risks. With few specific protocols to allow access to territory during the pandemic, the available protection space was greatly reduced.
More than 30% of Venezuelans in the region did not have access to regular stay arrangements, resulting in limited access to formal labour markets and social safety nets. This left many exposed to exploitation and abuse, eviction and homelessness, and in some cases detention or deportation.
Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Peru initiated different types of regularization processes to provide Venezuelans with documentation and improve their access to rights. In 2021, more than 500,000 Venezuelan applicants were approved for some form of regular stay, and more than 3 million Venezuelans abroad could potentially benefit from regularization exercises. Colombia has registered more than 1.8 million applicants for Temporary Protection Status. 1.2 million of them completed biometric registration, and over 300,000 were approved and received their documentation.
Chile incorporated a family reunification programme into its new immigration regulations and authorized the issuance of safe conduct for Venezuelans without documentation who qualified for family reunification or other exceptional humanitarian situations. Through the Government of Colombia’s “Children first” policy (“Primero la niñez”), over 70,000 children born to Venezuelan parents in Colombia received Colombian nationality, avoiding statelessness. Argentina passed a regulation facilitating access to temporary residence for Venezuelan children by waiving the requirement for presentation of a valid identity document.
In Brazil and Mexico, over 68,000 people were relocated from regions where they had little prospect of economic integration to parts of the country where they were matched to available jobs. In Colombia, UNHCR promoted increased access to the labour market and financial services for Venezuelans who will receive Temporary Protection Status.
In the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, UNHCR continued to support the implementation of the Humanitarian Response Plan and led the protection cluster, as well as the cluster responsible for shelter, energy and core relief items. Over the course of 2021, 1.9 million people, including host community members, people on the move or at risk of moving, and spontaneous returnees, were directly or indirectly assisted in 71 prioritized communities, especially in border areas, including access to community centres and temporary shelters, health services, and food assistance for the most vulnerable. UNHCR also provided technical assistance on shelter management and coordination and stepped-up assistance in reception areas, temporary shelters and public health facilities, while also supporting public health measures.
Through its co-leading role in the R4V platform, UNHCR promoted a predictable and coordinated response to the challenges of increasing mixed and onward movements across the region. In the context of the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan, collective inter-agency efforts provided assistance and support to 3.3 million people in 17 countries. The Quito Process remained the central forum for intergovernmental coordination among host countries. Under the pro tempore presidency of Peru, 13 governments participated in the Process, along with 34 other actors, including UN organizations, cooperating States and international financial institutions which support the Group of Friends of the Quito Process.
2021 Year-end population figures
Asylum seekers: 81,000
IDPs: 6.77 million
Other populations of concern: 504,000
2021 Situation overview
Despite the efforts of the Government of Colombia to address armed violence, the national registry of victims recorded more than 130,000 newly displaced people in Colombia in 2021, and an additional 21,000 people were affected by confinements by illegal armed groups. Ethnic minorities were disproportionately affected, and Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities together accounted for 41% of those displaced and 99% of those confined. New displacement, confinement, violence and control by illegal armed groups, together with the pandemic, posed further challenges to advancing solutions for IDPs and improving humanitarian access. With the 10-year extension of Law 1448: Victims and Land Restitution, the Victims Unit continued to register and provide emergency response to those newly affected by displacement, while also working towards longer-term solutions. UNHCR supported the legalization of 22 urban informal settlements, benefiting more than 55,000 people since 2014.
UNHCR and partners complemented Colombia’s institutional response to conflict-affected populations by strengthening the Government´s capacity at the national and local level to prevent displacement, provide protection and support durable solutions. UNHCR supported the State’s presence in the areas most affected by the conflict through key institutions, strengthening firstly the institutional capacity of the Ministry of Interior, with emphasis on the implementation of protection plans and monitoring collective protection measures; secondly, the presence of the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation, allowing permanent monitoring of the implementation of the Victims policy and the Peace Agreement; thirdly, the National Protection Unit in implementing collective protection mechanisms and prioritizing cases for special follow-up; and lastly, the Ombudsperson's Office, particularly within the Houses of Rights strategy, which assisted 22,000 people.
UNHCR ensured the centrality of protection in inter-agency coordination platforms, ongoing protection monitoring, advocacy and outreach activities targeting vulnerable communities in areas particularly affected by conflict. The Victims Unit, the National Statistical Office and UNHCR began developing criteria and metrics – linked to the recommendations of the Expert Group on Refugee and IDP Statistics established by the Bureau of the United Nations Statistical Commission – to improve data on vulnerability levels among IDPs and on possible linkages with durable solutions.
At the end of 2021, the total number of people of concern in Ecuador was 565,000 people, of which 54,000 were Colombian refugees. UNHCR strengthened child protection case management and the identification of needs both by UNHCR and its partners. One of the most important challenges was to strengthen capacity for conducting best interests assessments, with 110 children reached in 2021.
According to official Government data, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela hosted 9,300 recognized refugees and 520 asylum seekers as of 31 December 2021, mostly from Colombia. UNHCR strengthened its institutional relations with the National Commission for Refugees (CONARE) and the Office of the Ombudsperson by signing of a Tripartite Agreement. UNHCR supported CONARE to enhance protection delivery at the community level and helped to organize 15 registration and documentation outreach brigades in remote areas, which registered and documented 310 asylum seekers.
El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras Situation
2021 Year-end population figures
Asylum seekers: 484,000
Other populations of concern: 254,000
2021 Situation overview
The root causes of this displacement situation are multiple and interrelated: widespread violence, territorial control by criminal organizations and gangs, fragile institutions, the impact of climate change and deeply entrenched inequalities – all compounded by the pandemic.
In 2021, growing numbers of people were forced to leave their homes in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. By year-end there were nearly 600,000 asylum seekers and refugees from these countries, mainly in Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States of America. It is estimated that approximately 320,000 people were internally displaced in El Salvador and Honduras, although the actual number could be higher. In addition, significant cross-border movements, predominantly of Cubans, Haitians and Venezuelans, continued to be reported, putting additional pressure on asylum systems, mostly in Central America and Mexico.
Strengthened asylum capacity enabled States to process more asylum applications and provide alternative protection for those in need. The number of asylum seekers and refugees in Central America and Mexico rose from 33,000 in 2015 to 296,000 by mid-2021. Mexico has become the fourth-largest recipient country of new asylum claims in the world with more than 131,000 new asylum applications in 2021. Similarly, Central American States, while remaining mostly transit countries, increasingly hosted people in search of protection.
In coordination with partners, UNHCR supported a range of multisectoral humanitarian and protection services under the humanitarian response plans in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In addition, in the framework of the Comprehensive Development Plan for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and south and southeast Mexico, a package of priority projects was consolidated to support developmental investments in strengthening the response capacity of national institutions and the effective inclusion of displaced people.
UNHCR worked with multiple stakeholders, including national and state-departmental authorities, parliaments and local governments to promote institutional frameworks and policies on the prevention of internal displacement and protection of IDPs such as in El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. Furthermore, national authorities were supported with developing national statistics and information on IDPs, in line with the international recommendations on IDP statistics.
In Central America and Mexico, UNHCR supported the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework (MIRPS) as part of the Technical Secretariat. With Guatemala holding the MIRPS pro tempore presidency for 2021, UNHCR enhanced the coordination of Member States for technical consultations and joint operational planning to complement existing political dialogue.
MIRPS leveraged support from States, international financial institutions, the private sector, regional bodies and other stakeholders to offer further protection and solutions to forcibly displaced people in the region. The Inter-American Development Bank joined the platform in April 2021, strengthening coordination with development actors. In July 2021, Canada took the leadership of the platform for the next 12 months, with a focus on the protection and empowerment of women and girls on the move.
2021 Year-end population figures
Asylum seekers: 164,000
Other populations of concern: 29,000
2021 Situation overview
Outflows of Nicaraguans picked up in the second half of the year, mainly to Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and the United States of America, affected by Nicaragua’s presidential election in November 2021. Before the election and throughout November, UNHCR’s daily border monitoring exercises helped to identify movement trends at border points in Costa Rica’s Northern Zone, and UNHCR coordinated with local and national authorities for the response to people in need of international protection.
Returns of Nicaraguans also increased during 2021, primarily as a result of the COVID-induced socioeconomic crisis across the region.
Pre-registration applications for asylum in Costa Rica were running at around 4,000 per month in January-May 2021 but almost tripled to an average of 12,000 per month from August to November and 6,000 in December, bringing the number of Nicaraguan asylum seekers in Costa Rica to a total of 137,000 by year end (plus an additional 4,000 recognized refugees). UNHCR supported the Government of Costa Rica and host communities in welcoming asylum seekers and refugees through registration, legal aid, cash assistance, and donations of hygiene and cleaning kits, food and mattresses. It also provided psychosocial support, emergency shelter, vocational training, and activities to promote peaceful coexistence between refugees and the communities that host them.
UNHCR and partners supported host countries in responding to the growing needs of Nicaraguans seeking international protection by bolstering asylum systems, providing humanitarian assistance through cash to cover basic needs and promoting access to public services and the labour market. In Costa Rica, UNHCR provided medical insurance to 10,000 asylum seekers and refugees living with chronic medical conditions or in extreme vulnerability through an agreement with the Costa Rican Social Security. In Panama, more than 240 refugees and asylum seekers from Nicaragua received psychosocial assistance in 2021. In Mexico, as part of the local integration programme, UNHCR supported 51 people from Nicaragua during the first semester 2021 with temporary housing, cultural orientation, vocational training, school enrolment and job placement. In Guatemala, as part of UNHCR’s strategy for livelihoods, at least 14 Nicaraguan refugees were included in programmes facilitating access to employment and skills development.
UNHCR also supported host countries’ regular stay arrangements, documentation, inclusion in social protection schemes and provision of shelter, cash assistance and social security under the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework (MIRPS). To strengthen border monitoring, UNHCR opened a new field office on Honduras’ southern border. Contacts with local authorities and community leaders in border communities such as Choluteca and El Paraiso were also strengthened to identify Nicaraguans with international protection needs. In El Salvador, UNHCR strengthened the National Refugee Status Determination Commission by supporting experts in international protection, distributing information on the rights of forcibly displaced people, and updating equipment required to manage asylum applications in the country. In Costa Rica, 12 new registration staff were hired at the Migration Authority to support quicker access to asylum documentation.