By Julia Nierenberg, GHRC 2015 Fall Intern
This week, outlets such as The New York Times and Al Jazeera America published articles, videos and photos that illuminate and remind the world of the refugee and migrant crisis in the Northern Triangle. In the New York Times piece, Azam Ahmed stated that the images of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing to Europe reminds him of the smaller, but still significant migrant crisis occurring in Central America, specifically in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Men, women, and children are fleeing Central America at increasingly rapid rates. Last year was the first year that Mexican child migrants did not outnumber children fleeing from other countries in Central America to the United States; Ahmed recalls that, “From the beginning of October 2013 through July of this year, nearly 80,000 unaccompanied minors from those Central American countries were detained by United States authorities along the Mexican border.”
On September 16, GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones participated in a briefing hosted by Congressman Raul Grijalva on Capitol Hill about this ongoing crisis; Alford-Jones was joined by speakers from U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Congressional Research Service (CRS), and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Participants in the panel discussion highlighted the need for basic compassion for refugees, just application of the rule of law, and an understanding of the role of the US in contributing to migration from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
In his remarks, Congressman Grijalva reiterated that “this country [the United States] is a refuge for people fleeing violence and death” and that refugees from Central America “deserve the same equitable treatment that we would give to anyone else.”
Congressman Grijalva and Jana Mason (UNHCR) noted that the influx of people into the United States is not due to just one cause, but is rather an issue of “mixed migration.” Mason emphasized that there are multiple, overlapping reasons why people leave their host countries, including to seek asylum, as refugees, or as economic migrants.
Panelists explained the various forces behind migration; GHRC’s Kelsey Alford-Jones noted, for example, that migration from Guatemala must be understood as “inextricably linked to the social and political factors rooted in historic poverty, inequality and state-sponsored violence.” She also emphasized the role that the United States has played and continues to play in historic and ongoing violence in Guatemala.
During her closing remarks, Mason referred to a statistic that there has also been a 1200% increase in migrants from the Northern Triangle to Mexico, Belize, Panama, and Costa Rica from 2012 to now — further proof that migrants are leaving not only for economic reasons. The comparison to the migrant crisis in Europe is good, Mason said, as it is changing the discourse from a “migrant” to a “refugee crisis.”
“If you’re fleeing persecution, you are a refugee,” she stated.
Read more about migration from Central America to the US:
- Full comments by Kelsey Alford-Jones from the congressional briefing
- Recent news articles from NPR, the New York Times, and the three-part series from Al Jazeera.
- GHRC 2014 report on conditions for migrants returned to Guatemala