40th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration: an opportunity for Latin America and the Caribbean

01 July 2024

Related: Advocacy
The 40th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration is an opportunity for LAC Countries to become a benchmark for the international protection. Catholic organisations gathered for the event “Cartagena + 40 process: Chile Declaration and Plan of Action 2024-2034
Catholic organisations gathered for the event “Cartagena + 40 process: Chile Declaration and Plan of Action 2024-2034" (Jesuit Refugee Service)

The 1984 Cartagena Declaration is an important regional legal instrument for the protection of refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Its international significance lies in the extension of the definition of refugee to “persons who have fled their countries because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order”.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Declaration, and the LAC countries – led by the government of Chile – will soon be negotiating the Chile Declaration and Plan of Action 2024- 2034 in Geneva. This represents an opportunity for the Cartagena Declaration to become an international benchmark for justice at a time in which refugees and other displaced people – 120 million forcibly displaced according to the recently published UNHCR Global Trends Report 2023 – pay the highest price with their lives and safety due to the lack of effective protection systems and the violation of principles and obligations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

As an innovative legal, political and strategic instrument, the Cartagena Declaration, once transposed and effectively implemented into national laws and policies, strengthens the protection of people fleeing not only from armed conflicts and personal persecution, but also from other drivers of displacement such as environmental and climate impacts, widespread violence and human trafficking. It also helps to expand safe and regular pathways preventing people on the move from embarking on increasingly dangerous routes such as the Darién Gap.

From her displacement experience, Angie Torres, an Afro-descendant Colombian refugee and JRS collaborator who lives in Ecuador, gives us some key messages and concrete recommendations:

“In my experience as an asylum seeker, I faced together with my family several difficulties and barriers, such as the lack of empathy of some immigration officials, the lack of welcome by host communities, which made us much more vulnerable at that time, especially because the status of asylum seeker was not recognized by some institutions and, therefore, many rights were violated (…) This experience allows me to make some recommendations to improve the refugee status recognition process in our Latin American and Caribbean region: 1) The asylum application process should be fully respected and carried out effectively to avoid playing games with the expectations and life plans of asylum seekers; 2) public policies should respect the human rights of asylum seekers during the application process; and 3) mechanisms should be put in place to avoid the re-victimization of people during this process.”

As Catholic organizations inspired by the Gospel and Pope Francis’ four verbs – receive, protect, integrate, and promote our brothers and sisters on the move – as well as by the testimony and key messages of refugees like Angie, we call on the governments of the Latin American and Caribbean Region to draft the new Chile Declaration and Plan of Action 2024-2034 with the involvement of its protagonists, the refugees and displaced persons, taking into account their concerns, proposals, and expectations, and thus:

  • Effective protection in places of origin, transit and destination: Fully applying the expanded definition of “refugee”, also protecting those persons vulnerable and displaced by the climate crisis, including environmental disasters caused by human actions.
  • Alternative, safe and regular mechanisms to dangerous migratory routes: Creating legal systems so that persecuted persons can have access to the asylum procedure, avoiding conditions of extreme vulnerability in migratory corridors – El Darien is an example of this unavoidable regional reality.
  • Integration: facilitating access to rights, including migratory documentation, and strengthening coordination between different levels of government to make integration processes effective.

Since the late 19th century, Latin America has been a pioneer in protecting people suffering persecution due to conflict, widespread violence and political crises. We hope that Chile’s Action Plan will open new pathways to international protection and full inclusion for refugees and other people on the move, recognizing their relevant contributions to host societies and communities of origin, thus countering negative narratives and systemic discrimination in policies and behaviors. This will be a sign of hope and a pioneering example for other countries and regions of the world.

Download the final proposals of Faith-Based Organizations for the construction of the Chile Declaration and Plan of Action 2024-2034 (Cartagena+40).