“We have to break down the walls so we can understand and take action on the Central American Exodus”

The vulnerabilities experienced by the people in “exodus” from Central America get worse by the day.  ¿What can we do about it? Here are a few reflections from noted Mexican human rights defender, María Magdalena Silva Rentería.

16 de abril de 2019 Just a few days ago, a large group of people left Honduras seeking refuge in the United States.  This group follows in the footsteps of the “caravan” that set out from Honduras last October. Once again, the group has been joined along the way by smaller groups from El Salvador and Guatemala. Even before this latest caravan started out, the organizations working in the region had sent out an urgent call for help–noting that protection systems were “collapsing” under the pressure of providing humanitarian support to the first groups, now trapped on the border with the United States due to the Trump Administration “Remain in Mexico” program.  

¿Who are the people who are fleeing in desperation from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala? ¿What challenges do they face? María Silva Rentería, known as “Sister Magda”, Director of the (CAFEMIN) women and family shelter in Mexico City and Coordinator of a network of 23 organizations working to document cases and defend migrants’ rights (REDODEM) is one of the people who can best answer these questions.  She visited the United States last week for a three-city tour  coordinated by Alianza America.  On the tour, Sister Magda emphasized the need to bust the myths associated with the Central American exodus.

“The myths come from the rhetoric that governments feed us and that the media pick up and echo. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of repeating lies that generate fear and rejection of migrants,” she said.  In meetings in Chicago, Washington, DC and Detroit, Sister Magda called on audiences to break through walls, “both physical ones and the ones we carry in our minds and in our hearts” so we can understand what is really happening with the exodus. The following exchange is just one example of the questions and answers discussed in different community events.

Who are the people in Exodus?

“Many are families fleeing in fear from their countries. The violence that captures their children drives this forced migration.  Governments remain silent, lacking the capacity to guarantee the rule of law for their populations. It is a life or death situation.  Our countries aren’t poor, but our people have been impoverished by the social-economic systems that keep them marginalized.

They are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of wars, who no longer have roots in a country that is completely divided- economically, socially, and more.  These are the stories we hear every day from boys and girls, teens, and families.

What can we do?

“Each of us, from where we are in our own localities, can take action.  First, we need to talk to our neighbors, to share the truth about what is happening and challenge the lies. Then we have to protect people– make them welcome in our communities.  And yes, we need to change policies, and change politicians if the current ones won’t listen to us. In Mexico, the shelters and rights’s defenders have an overwhelming need for material and financial support, as well as volunteers.  If someone can help us, please do, but you can also do a lot in your own communities”.

The following short video was filmed during one of Sister Magda’s presentations in Detroit.

Worsening conditions in Mexico

The new administration of President Manuel López Obrador began its term with a ray of hope for the population in exodus: in January the National Institute of Migration (INAMI) began to give out “humanitarian cards” to Central Americans and others who arrived on Mexico’s southern border, authorizing their entry and one-year stay in Mexico. However, after just one month, the program was abruptly suspended. Not until April 3, did the government begin offering cards at the Tapachula border crossing.  Now, priority is given to people who come from outside Central America and to women and children.  After a security incident at the border control station in Tapachula, the office shut down again, causing lengthy delays and prompting some people to give up and enter without inspection. We reported last week on instances of corruption at the INAMI offices, which were part of the justification for closing the office.  However, this has just generated more confusion and delay.

About 1700 people are currently living in a makeshift  camp in Mapastepec, Chiapas, living under deplorable conditions– lacking basic services or information.  On the other hand, migration enforcement has ramped up all across the south– from southern Veracruz to Chiapas–detaining and deporting many people. Humanitarian assistance that was promised by the federal government has been virtually non-existent. There is an urgent need for coordination of municipal, state and federal resources to provide basic humanitarian assistance and protect the rights of migrants in transit in México.