Central America: what’s causing child migration?

In a statement released the last week of June, the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), leading organization of the Garífuna ethnic group, charged that the US-backed Honduran government was largely responsible for the dramatic increase in minors trying to migrate from Central America over the past years. OFRANEH said the government "blames the numbers only on narco trafficking; however, they forget that this catastrophe is also caused by collusion among politicians, business leaders, state security forces and criminal organizations linked to the trafficking of narcotics. The government has seen the situation worsen for years without doing anything to change the scenario, much less to avoid it."

Honduras is the country providing the largest number—more than 13,000—of the nearly 35,000 underage Central Americans detained at the US border in the last six months; the others come mostly from Guatemala and El Salvador. OFRANEH pointed to statistics from the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Casa Alianza Honduras, which reported that 287 people were murdered in Honduras in May alone, 104 of them under the age of 23. From 2010 to 2013, more than 27,000 people were killed in Honduras, according to OFRANEH; about 450 of the victims were younger than 14. (Adital, Brazil, June 23)

In related news, on June 23 unidentified assailants gunned down Luis Alonso Fúnez Duarte, the producer of a music program on the Súper 10 radio station in Catacamas, in the eastern department of Olancho. He was reportedly the second producer of a music program to be murdered in Olancho in June, and the 42nd Honduran media worker killed in the five years since the June 28, 2009 military coup that overthrew former president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009). (Adital, June 25)

Much of the US coverage of the child migrants has played down the violence against minors in the countries they come from and instead has emphasized reports that the migrants were drawn to the US by the expectation of lenient treatment. According to US journalist David Bacon, this version of events largely started with a report from the US Border Patrol which was "leaked" to Brandon Darby, a former informant and infiltrator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who is close to the right-wing Tea Party; reports based on this leak were circulated on the far-right website breitbart.com. (CounterPunch, June 26)

In contrast, a report released by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on March 12 cited fear of violence as the main cause for the increased migration. A careful survey of child migrants in 2013 found "that no less than 58% of the 404 children interviewed were forcibly displaced" because of violence, and that they warrant protection as refugees under United Nations conventions. In an interview with the National Journal, UNHCR senior protection officer Leslie Vélez, one of the report's authors, said 48% of the children "shared experiences of how they had been personally affected by the augmented violence" from "organized armed criminal actors, including drug cartels and gangs, or by state actors." Only nine of the 404 children "mentioned any kind of possibility of the US treating children well." She noted that the Central American migrants are not just fleeing to the US. Many go to Mexico, and migration to Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama has increased by 712% since 2008. (NJ, June 16)

A reporter from the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada got similar results from interviews at an immigration detention center in Tapachula in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas. "Going back means losing your life because of the gangs," a Honduran man traveling with his baby told the reporter. An older man with two grand-daughters, ages seven and 10, said: "I left Honduras because they already killed three of my four sons. I can't stay to wait for them to take away my grand-daughters. There the gangs kill for anything, take our houses, our pay. Everything." Asked if he wanted to go home, a six-year-old Honduran boy began to cry and told the reporter: "They kill people there, and you can't play." (LJ, June 29)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 29.

  1. Narco wars drive migrant kids to US borders

    Right-wing politicians in the US blame the wave of kids arriving at the Southwest border on Obama's "deferred action" policy that bars deportation of undocumented migrants brought to the United States as children. But the migrants themselves tell of Central American communities terrorized by narco gangs that prey on youth. See full story at Global Ganja Report