Central America: Human Rights and Forced Migration
Well before the 1989 assassination of six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter at the University of Central America by U.S.-trained Salvadoran military forces, the Jesuits of the United States were partnering with Jesuits and lay colleagues in Central America. Following the tragic extra-judicial execution of the Jesuits of the UCA, Jesuits in the U.S. have been committed to ensuring that U.S. policy does not exacerbate difficult realities facing poor and marginalized communities in the region. Over the past several years, the Jesuit Conference has tracked with growing concern the increase in forced displacement and targeted violence — perpetrated by gangs, organized crime, and state forces — in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Children and Families Seeking Protection
El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have little infrastructure and few services to care for women and girls subject to violence and sexual exploitation. The collapse of civil society is made evident by besieged schools, hollowed out neighborhoods, and tortured, often dismembered bodies of children as young as two displayed in streets and ditches. Adding to the complexity of the crisis and the vulnerability of children are the forced recruitment campaigns perpetrated by street gangs in all three countries. Children as young as six have been forced to make the choice between joining a gang and being one more victim of gang violence. As children are the primary targets for gang recruitment, they are also often seen as the driver of the violence, and vigilante groups, often composed of police officers or security forces, have targeted children in impoverished neighborhoods in Honduras.
Recent analysis has shown that violence is now a principal motivator for migration from Central America to the United States. A UNHCR report from 2014 stated that in 2012, the U.S. received 85% of the new asylum applications by individuals from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize registered a combined 435% increase in the number of asylum applications filed by individuals from the Northern Triangle of Central America. This signals a refugee crisis, not simply an immigration challenge. We, as people of faith, have a responsibility to welcome and protect these young people and their families fleeing danger.
The Jesuit Response
In order to address this crisis at its source, we have been working with the Jesuits in Central America who understand how we arrived at this tragic juncture. They, along with many others, have been calling on their governments to address impunity and corruption, improve judicial systems, expand educational access, strengthen child welfare services in the region, and support adequate return and reintegration programs to ensure that children and families who choose to remain in their home countries may safely do so.
The Jesuit Conference will continue to work with Jesuit Ministries in Central America, the Jesuit Migration Network, Radio Progreso and ERIC in Honduras, and our partners in El Salvador to continue to address the needs of children and families fleeing violence and to advocate for smarter U.S. policy towards the region, with a focus on addressing the systemic human rights challenges at the root of increased migration from the region.