Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Citizenship

The awful reason the Central American refugee crisis is out of sight

Flickr: Peter Haden

A refugee is someone who abandons her home and way of life because she fears death or harsh persecution.  

It’s someone who leaves in the middle of the night barefoot just to get away. It’s someone who goes weeks without food, children in her arms, just to be alive without deeper scars of trauma. It’s someone who puts herself at the mercy of others in foreign places where they sometimes speak foreign languages and have foreign customs, begging for relief, begging for safety.

It’s someone everyone everywhere is morally obligated to help.

But as is painfully clear, everyone everywhere does not always help. A lot of the time people look away, go on with their daily lives as if nothing terrible is happening nearby.  

The refugees fleeing the chaos in Syria have been pushed out of many countries and often find themselves in squalid, opportunity-deprived camps.  

The plight of the Syrians has gained more recognition over the past few months, causing more resources to be mobilized for help, but much more still has to be done. Particularly in regions not getting the same global attention.

In Central America, the international spotlight has not yet fallen on the suffering of refugees.

So people fleeing gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and other Central American countries often find themselves deported back to dangerous areas where they end up trapped in horrible circumstances or even tortured and murdered.

For some context: El Salvador is the homicidal capital of the world. After a few years of a truce with the government, gangs have resumed grisly operations: kidnapping, torturing, murdering civilians.

For Central Americans, it’s not solely a matter of countries looking away. The US and Mexico are actually making it as hard as possible for refugees to claim and receive asylum.

According to a recent piece in The New York Times by Sonia Nazario: “The United States has given Mexico tens of millions of dollars for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 to stop these migrants from reaching the United States border to claim asylum.”

Next year, the administration wants to bring the total to $90 million, according to Nazario. 

This money is being used in Southern Mexico to aggressively hunt for, lock up and deport migrants and refugees, many of whom are children.

Some of the consequences of the ramped-up policy are truly frightening.

For one, the mandate to round-up Central Americans has led to a rise in kidnappings, because criminals rightly understand that the police will not look for kidnapped victims from other countries. It’s one of those informal agreements: Central Americans are not welcome and however they’re captured doesn’t matter.

Migrants and refugees who are kidnapped and held for outrageous ransoms tend to face abuse such as rape and regular beatings and live in miserable conditions. Some are pushed into prostitution, slavery or are killed and harvested for their organs.

Throughout the country the government is making the traditional routes to asylum more difficult. For example, all sorts of barriers are being put up around trains to prevent migrants and refugees from catching a free ride.

Law enforcement officials patrol trains and use electric guns or tasers to knock people off who are riding on top.

Police scour the countryside to sweep up migrants and refugees, forcing travelers to take roundabout and dangerous routes.

Safe homes run by Catholic groups and others are being targeted and attacked. As Nazario explains, these safe homes used to be rest stops on a long journey. Now they are the only places of safety, and are frequently threatened.

Detention centers where police send travelers tend to be grimy and often hold individuals for months or even years without offering opportunities for asylum.

All of this and more has combined to make it extremely difficult to make it to the US border. And so the number of migrants and refugees reaching the US is plummeting. So far this year, Mexico has apprehended 92,899 Central Americans compared to the 70,448 apprehended in the US.

For those lucky enough to reach the US, the situation is not that much different. Kidnappings, endless waits in crowded detention centers, separation from families and abuse are common.

All of this should be generating outrage, it should be causing Mexicans and US citizens to demand humane policies from their governments. Policies that appreciate the trauma of refugees and their basic plea for help.

But that isn’t happening.

This multinational crackdown is on autopilot mode. It’s barreling along out of sight, fueled by taxpayer money, feeding propaganda that Central Americans are criminals and it’s trampling the rights of refugees.

I know that it shouldn’t and mustn’t be this way. It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of inalienable human rights.

It’s the simplest covenant of society: when someone is running from death, you help, you do everything you can.

For now, put yourself in the shoes of a refugee. Go to TAKE ACTION NOW to tell the world the one thing you would take with you if you suddenly had to leave your home for good. 


Share your thoughts with me on Facebook or Twitter!