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.
Violence, Instability, and Impunity
Violence, particularly targeted violence, against children has been escalating in the region over the last decade. In Honduras, 90 children and youth are murdered every month. As the emergency situation in the region has evolved, we have witnessed that violence has had a particular impact on women and girls. The Northern Triangle countries – El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala – make up three of the top four countries for femicide in the world. Additionally, many state institutions like the police and military have become corrupted by drug-traffickers and gangs, leading to rampant impunity. Impunity for violent crime is estimated between 93% and 97% in the three countries. 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 6 have been forced to make the choice between joining a gang or becoming 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 gangs, often composed of police officers or security forces, have targeted children in impoverished neighborhoods in Honduras.
Children and Families Seeking Protection
Considering this tragic reality, it is no surprise that we have seen an unprecedented increase in the number of individuals and families fleeing the region. A report published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found a 1,185% increase in the number of asylum applications filed by citizens of the Northern Triangle countries between 2008 and 2014. The number of individuals seeking asylum in Mexico similarly increased significantly from 2014 to 2015 and more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. 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, hallowed out neighborhoods, and tortured, often dismembered bodies of children as young as 2 displayed in streets and ditches.
Recent analysis has shown that violence is now a principal motivator for migration from 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 can safely remain in their home countries are able to do so.
The Jesuit Conference will continue to work with Jesuit ministries in Central America, including Radio Progreso and ERIC in Honduras, and the Jesuit Migration Network to address the needs of children and families fleeing violence and to advocate for smarter U.S. policy towards the region that addresses the systemic human rights challenges at the root of increased migration.
Reports, Statements, and Sign-On’s
La Voz del Pueblo: An exploration of human rights challenges facing Honduran Jesuit ministries (in Spanish with English subtitles
The most violent country on the planet isn’t halfway across the globe; it is a 2.5-hour flight from Houston. Most U.S. citizens are at best dimly aware of the bloodshed that is the defining feature of present-day Honduras. In 2014, Honduran children surfaced on the southern U.S. border by the tens of thousands, prompting a Texas congressman to decry this “invasion of our nation.” Likewise, protesters in California met the young immigrants with angry slogans like “return to sender!” But did protesters have any understanding of the situation these youths were escaping? The violence they’d be thrown back into if they were indeed “returned to sender”?
La Voz Del Pueblo is an 18-minute documentary that explores the difficult and violent Honduran reality through the perspective of journalists at the Jesuit-run radio station, Radio Progreso.
Learn more at: http://igsol.net/lavoz.