Driven by desperation

11 Feb, 2020

A guest post from Miguel Angel Lopez Guerra, Director of CONACMI, Family for Every Child’s member organisation in Guatemala.

We have all seen the frenzy being whipped up in the US as people from Central America strive to cross the border in search of a better life.

The calls of ‘send them back’ – coming out loud and clear at Donald Trump’s political rallies – still ring in our ears.

Despite this climate of hate, people from Guatemala are still migrating in huge numbers. They know that their journey will be risky, arduous, and potentially in vain – and yet they still take the risk.

A desperate situation

People aren’t leaving their communities and families out of simple greed. In Guatemala they are living in misery, facing threats including robbery, kidnapping, rape, entrenched unemployment, poverty, climate change, and hunger.

This is not a small subset of the population. For example, 49.6% of Guatemalan children show signs of malnutrition; and yet the country still invests less in child health, education and protection than any other country in the region.

Migration is big business

The political problems people face are no better on either side of the border. In fact, whilst the US government doesn’t want them to come, the Guatemalan government doesn’t seem to want them to stay, either.

In part, this is because the Guatemalan government is reliant on foreign remittances from their citizens living overseas who are sending money back to their families. This is equivalent to $1 million USD every hour, or $24 million per day, according to official statistics; and it is rising.

With so much money flowing in, we should expect improvements in Guatemala – but we are not seeing them. As a result, without the Guatemalan government investing in basic welfare matters such as health, education, employment and poverty, more and more Guatemalans will be forced to leave their homes and communities.

This needs to change. CONACMI call on the government to invest more equitably across the country, providing basic resources for all, so people are not forced into migrating because of unbearable conditions.

In the meantime, we also call for:

  1. Supporting Guatemalans with safer transit: In situations where people do need to move, interventions should be made to lessen the dangers they face, and to provide access to essential support such as healthcare.
  2. A dignified reception and integration in Mexico and the US: The Guatemalan government, as well as the Mexican and US governments, have the power to provide better responses for those arriving in their transit or destination countries; and providing a level of basic support is, indeed, necessary for them to meet their legal obligations pertaining to human rights and dignity.
  3. Safer return and reintegration: Where people are being returned to Guatemala, or where they choose to return voluntary, this should be done in ways that are dignified and respect their human rights. Reintegration support into communities of origin can lead to better outcomes for returnees and for the communities as a whole.

Each of these elements needs to be properly resourced, with an action plan that defines the people and organisations responsible for its implementation.

A glimmer of hope  – but it’s not enough

We know that support for communities can work when the government supports it. At CONACMI, we have been supporting young people’s development through vocational training schemes and English classes so they can find opportunities to work with dignity without the need to leave. This has a knock-on effect of stimulating the local economy for all.

This is an example of the collaborative work the government needs to do to make change happen, but it needs to happen at a larger scale. We worked on this project with the Ministry of Employment and the Institute of Capacity-Building, as well as with private sector companies such as TELUS who are now employing the newly-trained staff in their call centre.

As a result of this experience, we know that non-governmental organisations such as ours can make a practical impact on the lives of Guatemalans across the country. It’s positive change like this, rather than simply shutting people off to opportunity, that will create a brighter future for us all.

But we must be realistic, too. This project is but a drop in the ocean. For the sake of all of us across the North American continent, and for a more unified society, it is essential that we do not drop our call for bringing initiatives like this to scale. Please support us to spread the word by sharing our Childhood on the Move campaign materials on social media. Together, we can make a bigger noise.

Our work is only possible due to the generosity of people just like you. Learn more about our Childhood on the Move campaign or support our work by making a donation

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