migration Uruguay

Uruguay Sees 83% Surge in Migrant Assistance Requests Over Five Years

Requests for assistance from migrants to the Ministry of Social Development (Mides) increased by 83% in the last five years; in 2023, there were nearly 14,000 cases, reports Fabián Cambiaso for El Pais.

Cubans, Venezuelans, and Argentinians were the most likely to seek solutions to issues related to food and documentation, as was the case for most others, according to the Ministry of Social Development (Mides).

In the past five years, citizens from almost half the world have passed through some office of the Ministry of Social Development (Mides) seeking some type of assistance. This phenomenon has increased year by year over the last five years. According to the latest processed data, requests for assistance from foreign migrants to the ministry have increased by 83% over this government period.

Nearly 4,000 Cubans, more than 1,800 Venezuelans, a similar number of Argentinians, 1,300 Brazilians, and more than 500 Colombians and Dominicans went through some Uruguayan territorial dependency of this ministry in 2023. In those 12 months, citizens from 73 different nationalities from five continents also sought help. Some came from inhospitable, distant, and unexpected places. Some came from the poorest nations in the world, while others came from the richest countries on Earth.

The Mides Monitoring, Administration, and Resolution of Procedures System (SMART) recorded that 13,610 foreigners received some type of citizen assistance from the ministry last year. In 2022, there were 13,290 cases; in 2021, 11,053 migrants requested help; and in 2020, there were 10,530. In 2019, Mides registered only 7,410 cases.

The data is included in the ministry’s response to an information request made by Senator Amanda Della Ventura (FA). The report, signed by Minister Alejandro Sciarra and accessed by El País, indicates that Montevideo concentrated 6,043 cases, 44% of the total, more than doubling the 2,813 cases from 2019.

Additionally, Mides registered 1,092 foreigners in some type of citizen assistance device in Canelones last year. There were 650 cases in Rivera, 380 in Maldonado, and 247 in Colonia among the departments with the highest numbers, considering where the migrants declared their residence.

“If we consider the area of the country where the attention was actually provided, Montevideo registered 7,386 cases, compared to the 3,339 in 2019,” said Cambiaso.

The report includes data on the number of migrant minors attended by Mides. Last year, there were 1,815 cases, almost 100 more than in 2022 and 500 more than in 2019.

The Main Challenges

In all cases, Mides clarified that a person could have been attended to in more than one year, so the total number of attendances might be higher than the number of individuals attended to. In response to Della Ventura’s inquiry, the ministry stated it did not have disaggregated information by families.

According to the report, the two main reasons for consultations from these citizens were related to food—specifically, how to access food—and documentation issues. It is noted that these individuals often face problems obtaining consular certificates, birth, marriage, death, or criminal records, among others. Mides tries to make the necessary contacts with foreign representations, often covering the cost of the procedure. Difficulties in obtaining documentation in their home countries affect these migrants locally.

In a secondary tier, there were consultations related to employment, guidance, training, and job insertion, access to monetary transfers provided by the ministry, and how they can join a health provider. The report notes that migrants report difficulties enrolling their children in secondary education due to the requirement to present documentation proving the courses taken in their home country.

Additionally, an agreement signed between Mides and the Administration of State Health Services (ASSE) allows immediate affiliation to that provider for migrants who do not yet have residency and require urgent medical attention. The same applies to asylum seekers who do not yet have Uruguayan identity documents.

Mides stated that it cannot be confirmed that all these people “seek to establish residency,” as Uruguay is also a “transit” country for migrants, who often engage in “circular movements” at the borders. In this regard, the ministry said it lacks data indicating the number of foreign migrants who entered Uruguay so far this year.

In its report, the ministry refers to the work of the National Migration Board, which operates under the Executive Branch, the Refugee Commission, and exchanges with various civil society organizations. From there, various problems related to housing and employment access were identified. “Unfortunately, these people are often victims of fraud or abuse when renting a house or a pension and regarding their labor rights,” the report states.

In this regard, the National Directorate of Social Protection of the ministry is working on a pilot plan for “pension vouchers” for migrants. The benefit, initially planned for three months, was recently extended to one year. Last year, according to El País, the project covered about 150 migrants, mostly Cubans and Venezuelans.

In Rivera, where most migrants enter, Casa Trampolín has been implemented to ensure quick and safe access to initial housing. Once their situation is regularized, these individuals can access medium and long-term responses. In October 2023, Mides issued the first rental certificates to thirteen migrant families living on the streets.

Regarding the programs and services offered, Mides clarified that they are universal, so no specific follow-up is done based on the migrant status of the beneficiary.

On March 1 of this year, Mides opened its first Migrant Reference Center. Located in Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo, it was presented as a “support, guidance, and meeting space,” where these individuals can access “reliable and updated information” on rights and services, reducing the difficulties they face during their effective integration. The center was established with support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) through a non-refundable loan of $5 million.

Citizens of 108 countries

In 2023, the number of cases of Cubans seeking help from Mides quadrupled compared to 2019. The same happened with Colombians. For Venezuelans, the number doubled, while there were slight but constant increases in attention to Argentinians and Brazilians throughout the five years.

Since 2019, citizens from 108 countries have passed through some office of Mides. There were Afghans, Germans, and Australians. Belarusians, Bolivians, and Burkinabes. Also, Canadians, Chinese, or Croats. In some cases, those attended were the only representatives of their nationality. In these five years, Mides assisted a citizen from Brunei, another from the Philippines, an Iranian, an Israeli, a Jordanian, or a Kazakh.

Assistance was also provided to a Mozambican, a Qatari, and a Brit. Citizens from Seychelles, Russia, Senegal, the Czech Republic, and Sierra Leone also sought help from Mides during these years. From Togo, Tonga, and Ukraine, Armenia, Turkey, and Bangladesh. From Haiti, India, or Djibouti.

Attention to a person from Vatican City is noteworthy. Others came from Tokelau and Vanuatu, two small island nations in Oceania. There was also a case of a native of the British Indian Ocean Territory, one of the last Crown dependencies, consisting of about 60 islands located halfway between Africa and Indonesia.


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