Public sentiment turning against migrants in Latin America, per new index

Venezuelan Woman in tent with child A human rights worker takes the statement of a Venezuelan woman while a child plays nearby.

Nowhere in the world has public sentiment turned more significantly against migrants than in Latin America, according to a new poll.

The Migrant Acceptance Index released Wednesday by Gallup shows that public opinion in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru has taken a negative view towards migrants. Each of the three countries has seen the arrival of millions of Venezuelan migrants in recent years.

“Initially, many of the migrants and refugees were welcomed in these countries, but public sentiment started to turn against them as their economies, and their health, education and social assistance programs buckled under the strain,” the report read.

The first version of the index that was released in 2016 polled people around the world on three questions concerning their feelings about migrants: how they feel about immigrants living in their country, how they would feel about an immigrant becoming their neighbor, and how they would feel if an immigrant married one of their close relatives. Three years later, the response poll released this week shows how sentiment towards immigrants in Latin America has cooled rapidly.

Peru’s acceptance score shrunk from 6.33 in 2016 to 3.61 in 2019. That marked the most intense downward swing in the three years followed closely by Ecuador and Colombia.

In Colombia, 61 percent of respondents said in 2016 that migrants living in their country was generally a good thing. In 2019, just 29 percent said it was a positive. Less than half of Colombian respondents said they would like a relative to marry an immigrant or would like to live next to an immigrant in the latest version of the poll.

Venezuelan migrants in Colombia and elsewhere around the continent have been blamed for overwhelming the publicly funded social assistance programs. Xenophobic attitudes in these countries have also lead to politicians and the general public blaming crime on the increased number of Venezuelans. A study released this month by the Brookings Institute showed that Venezuelan migrants commit violent crimes at a much smaller rate than natives in each of the Latin American countries that have received them. In Chile, a mere 0.7 percent of those indicted for crimes in 2019 were Venezuelans, despite Venezuelan nationals making up 2.4 percent of the population.

More than 5.2 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015 to escape the humanitarian crisis at home.

Guatemala was the other Latin America country where public perception of migrants declined the most from 2016-2019. The Central American country has seen an uptick in migrants traveling north towards the United States. In 2019, the United States began sending asylum seekers from Honduras and El Salvador to Guatemala to submit their cases from there.

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