The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum in Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico has jumped dramatically because of the crisis in their country, a new report by the UN migration agency and the Organization of American States said Tuesday.
In the first half of this year, 12,756 Venezuelans asked for refugee status in Panama, according to the report presented at the start of a two-day conference on migration flows held in Costa Rica's capital.
That was nearly three times the number recorded for all of last year, when 4,615 Venezuelans lodged asylum applications.
In Costa Rica, around 2,600 asylum applications are expected for all this year, up from 1,423 last year and just 200 in 2015, according to national migration data cited in the report.
In Mexico, the number of Venezuelans saying they had to leave their country due to persecution, conflict or disaster rose from 139 last year to already 331 in the first half of this year.
The outflow from Venezuela is eclipsing other migration currents in Latin America, which up to now were dominated by Cubans and Haitians, the study showed.
The region is also a transit zone for African and Asian migrants trying to reach the United States or Canada.
Laura Thompson, deputy director general of the International Organization for Migration, the UN's migration agency, said that migration flows in the Americas were overwhelmingly from south to north -- 94 percent of the migrants were aiming for the US and Canada.
The report noted that the migrant population in the Americas grew 78 percent between 1990 and 2013, going from 34 million to 61 million, which is higher than the global average increase of 42 percent.
The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, warned that there was a rise in xenophobic trends and animosity toward migrants in countries receiving most of the migrants.
Growing immigration in Latin American and Caribbean countries is essentially due to intra-regional migration, the joint report said.
However, immigration from outside the Americas also grew 12 percent through the 2010-2013 period, it said.