Civil Society Responses to Displacement and Deportations in El Salvador and Honduras

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Date: Jun 01, 2018

Authors: Grace Laria, Daniella Burgi-Palomino

At an event in Washington D.C. hosted by the Latin America Working Group, Alianza Americas, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Oxfam, and CARECEN, Larry Parr, Hermilo Soto, and Yanira Arias shared civil society perspectives around the challenges of working with returned migrants in Honduras and youth in El Salvador, and the impacts of U.S. immigration and foreign policies to the region.

As national coordinator of Central America for the Lutheran World Foundation, Hermilo Soto has worked to develop a 3-year program to reduce the need for deported Honduran youth to flee their home communities once again. Focused on providing technical skill training, access to credit, and scholarships, this program has worked with 300 young people aged 17 to 30. Thus far, only two have returned to the migration route, according to Soto.

Soto believes that this program fills an important gap in services for deported youth in Honduras. He shared that civil society organizations and programs like those directed by Lutheran World Foundation no longer have access to of the two repatriation centers that exist in the entire country. As a result, civil society members like Soto have not only lost crucial access to deported Hondurans in need of information and resources upon their return, but also its ability to hold the government accountable for its treatment of returned migrants.

The Honduran government has focused its efforts on improving the physical infrastructure of he two repatriation centers that exist in the country, which Soto referred to as a “short-term solution” to the dangers and hardships migrants face upon their return to Honduras. The result of a lack of a services and attention for deported migrants, according to Soto, is that migrants frequently do not go back to their home communities, but rather return to the perilous migration route. Soto pointed to the refugee caravan that has received significant media coverage in the United States as a reflection of this ongoing problem in Honduras.

Larry Parr, a Maryknoll lay missioner, has worked to develop a program to accompany youth in the Salvadoran community Las Delicias by focusing on recreation, education, and security. According to Parr, while some government and USAID youth assistance and development programs exist, they tend to focus on “keeping kids busy” without addressing the root causes of violence and poverty in the community.

Parr also highlighted the difficulty of developing youth programming in a highly insecure and unstable social environment characterized by intensified militarization of the police, which decreases youth participation in these programs. In fact, although Parr mentioned that high levels of gang presence contribute to ongoing violence, he stated that since 2014 murders in the community have been primarily committed by military and police forces that have criminalized youth through increased surveillance and even beatings. Parr referred to this situation as a “massacre of young people” as youth become caught between the military or police and gangs, often forcing them to migrate elsewhere to escape violence. As government repression has increased, Parr has observed that the community more frequently turns to gangs for security and protection.

Both Soto and Yanira Arias, national campaigns manager at Alianza Americas, emphasized what they referred to as the “institutional collapse” of legislative and judicial systems in Honduras and El Salvador. Soto specifically discussed the ongoing political crisis in Honduras following the presidential election of Juan Orlando Hernández in December 2017, which he called “the most transparent case of electoral fraud in recent history,” even as Hernández’s government has been legitimized by multiple international actors such as the United States.

Arias claimed that this “institutional collapse” was not accidental, but rather intimately connected to a long history of political repression, militarism, inequality, and the criminalization of young and indigenous people in the region, all of which combine to make these countries “exporters of inexpensive labor to U.S.” where migrants work without receiving just social, economic, and political benefits.

The event was hosted at Oxfam. Photo by Grace Laria. 

A TPS holder who fled El Salvador 18 years ago, Arias called on the U.S. government to “ensure that no federal funding is used to detain or deport TPS beneficiaries.” She demanded that U.S. assistance to Central America go beyond supporting repatriation centers by seeking collaboration with local communities and civil society (e.g. longer-term accompaniment for returned migrants) and “de-emphasizing the military and police” (e.g. avoiding any support for abusive military forces by making foreign aid conditional upon the upholding of human rights) in improving security conditions in Honduras.