According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 57,000 unaccompanied children were caught at the Mexico-USA border since October 2013, this is double of last year (26,000). More than three-quarters of these children come from Central America countries – meaning El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Why are so many children fleeing their homelands ?
These countries make up a region known as the “Northern Triangle” where gangs and drug-trafficking organizations have gained power as states have weakened. These unaccompanied children flee their homes for various reasons and often related to violence : the three countries have the highest homicide rates in the world. Children still leave homelands to reunite with a parent or for better educational and economic opportunities but a most majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty but violence. The United Nations High Commissioner for refugees recently interviewed 404 children who had arrived in the US and 58 percent said their primary reason for leaving was violence.
Most of this violence is due to the criminal activity operated by gangs dealing with drug and human trafficking in all the region. Some of these children are threatened by gang members that force them to choose between join a gang, pay a “bribe” or be killed by them. In this situation, many parents choose to push their children to flee their country to USA.
Then these children pass into the hands of human traffickers – often members of gangs in Mexico – who charge them 1,000 to 12,000 $ to reach the US for the most lucky or end up in forced labor, sex trade or organized crime for the less fortunate.
This journey to the US is more than risky: these children often ride atop wagons of freight trains, jumping on to and off, running the risk of being seriously injured or even killed during the journey. This train has thereby been named La Bestia (The Beast).
Barack Obama tells Central American parents: “don’t send your kids over the border”
This was during a speech giving in Dallas, Texas, after a meeting with Texas’s Republican Governor Rick Perry and local officials. US President Obama addressed a request of 3.7 million $ at the Congress to deal with the growing number of unaccompanied migrants caught at the US border. He called it a “humanitarian situation”. In the same time, he also demanded to pass an emergency funding bill to tighten the border surveillance and surge customs and legal resources to speed up deportations of undocumented immigrants. It’s an issue really hard to deal with given the growing number of these children and that under the anti-trafficking statute, minors from Central America cannot be deported immediately and must be given a court hearing before any disposal.
Terre des Hommes consider that all these unaccompanied children should be heard and protected from the country of origin till the country of destination. These new datas show that children flee their homes in order to escape from violence and not specifically to escape poverty.
Terre des Hommes Schweiz currently manages different projects in El Savador, two of which are intended to provide alternatives to gang violence and migration. Watch the short docu-video produces two years ago: Young people from El Salvador who migrate to the U.S.
Read more from: Central America, South America