Fleeing gang violence in his hometown near San Pedro Sulas in Honduras, 14-year-old Gredys Alexander Hernández tried to reach safety in the United States, only to be intercepted in Mexico and sent back. Two days later, just as he was about to re-attempt the journey, masked gangsters burst into his house and shot him dead.
Honduran police say Hernández was murdered because he had witnessed
gangsters killing his sister’s boyfriend. The authorities in Honduras
say he failed to tell staff at the migrant processing centre there that
his life would be in danger if he was sent home.
Hernández’s story illustrates how mechanisms put in place to stop an
unprecedented influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America to the
southern US border – which peaked last summer – are failing scores of
children fleeing violence in their native countries.
In response to the border crisis last year, the US set up
an in-country refugee/parole programme for Central American Minors
(CAM), as a way for children from the violence-hit “Northern Triangle”
countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to join parents already
lawfully living in the US.
It was billed as a safe and legal alternative that would deter children
from undertaking the perilous journey through Mexico to the US. But the
US also leaned heavily on Mexico to beef up interceptions and
deportations of migrants trying to reach the border.
Mexico now deports
more Central Americans than the US, including nearly 10,000
unaccompanied minors between October 2014 and March 2015. Critics argue
that the mechanisms for processing asylum claims in Mexico are woefully
inadequate and that many children are not being adequately screened
before being sent back to danger.
The result of Mexico’s crackdown has been that the numbers of Central
American children reaching the US in 2015 is around half the figure
that made it during the same period in 2014. In total last year, 68,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the border.
A 2014 report
by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, showed that half of unaccompanied
children arriving at the US border from the three Northern Triangle
countries and Mexico should qualify for protection.
Meanwhile, by all accounts, the violence and societal breakdown causing children to flee have only got worse.
Since a truce between two major gangs – MS-13 and Barrio 18 – broke down
last year, violence in all three countries has continued to soar. Much
of it is attributed to turf wars between the two gangs, which originated
in Los Angeles.
In El Salvador more people were killed in May (an average of 20 a day)
than in any month since 1992. Honduras has one of the highest murder
rates in the world, with over 100 people killed in the first 10 days of
the year; and violence in Guatemala
was worse this January than last, also in large part due to rivalry
between the two gangs, which have links to global organised crime
While the violence has continued, not one child from the three eligible
countries has yet to join his or her parents in the US as a result of
the CAM programme, although more than 2,000 individuals have applied. The refugee organisations tasked with implementing the programme have
reported a steady uptick in applications as news of its existence
spreads, but only a handful have reached the interview stage and
agencies say no children are expected to arrive in the United States
before the end of the year.
The process is lengthy and laborious, involving DNA testing of parents
and children, medical and security checks and many other administrative
hoops. Furthermore, CAM is capped at only 4,000 applications this year.
IRIN contacted several of the organisations involved – all of them NGOs
that receive state funding to implement refugee resettlement programmes –
but none would facilitate interviews with parents trying to reunite
with their children. Staff members said parents were afraid that a media
interview could endanger their children or jeopardise the outcome of a
“It's a political programme, not a humanitarian one,” commented Refugee
International’s senior advisor on human rights Sarnata Reynolds, who
visited El Salvador recently.
read more here