Children traveling with a caravan of migrants from Central America stand on the beach and near the border fence between Mexico and the US, prior to preparations for an asylum request in the US in Tijuana, Mexico [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]
by Faras Ghani
Unaccompanied child migrants face dangerous journeys during transit, including abuse and detention, rights organisations have warned, highlighting significant failings in safeguarding unaccompanied minors.
A recent report by UNHCR revealed that nearly 140,000 people arrived in Greece, Italy and Spain in search of safety in 2018. Almost 11,000 of the new arrivals were unaccompanied children.
Additionally, according to the Red Cross, more than 300,000 unaccompanied child migrants are currently at high risk of sexual and gender-based violence during transit.
The perilous journey undertaken by these young migrants without an accompanying adult makes them vulnerable to being assaulted, sexually abused, raped, trafficked into sexual exploitation or forced into “survival sex”, according to an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report Alone and Unsafe, which shows that the number of unaccompanied child migrants has grown five-fold in five years.
Europe accounted for more than half of unaccompanied minor arrivals in 2017, with more than 158,000 reaching the continent in the first three quarters of the year.
Currently, almost 30 percent of all asylum seekers across that continent are children, half of whom are from just three countries: Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.
A joint UNICEF-IOM report also revealed that children from sub-Saharan Africa are targeted more than any other group, highlighting discrimination and racism along transit routes.
The reason for their departure ranges from abuse at home and peer pressure to violence, says IFRC President Francesco Rocca, who called on UN member countries to address the root causes.
“In Cox’s Bazar, for example, we saw many children with their neighbours because their parents were killed,” Rocca told Al Jazeera.
“In Niger, we see young girls from Nigeria who sold themselves for sex for as low as $3. In Central America, there’s violence that drives them out. It creates a very, very difficult environment for them to live in.”
More support needed
More than 40 percent of all child asylum seekers are girls. A poll by UNICEF late last year revealed that almost half of nearly 4,000 refugees and migrants aged 14 to 24 were forced to leave their countries, 44 percent of them left alone.
Some 38 percent said they did not receive any help from anyone, including family, friends or relatives, while almost half the respondents reported that they had been unable to see a doctor when needed.
“While politicians are squabbling over migration, 4,000 uprooted children and young people are telling us they need more support,” said Laurence Chandy, Director of Data, Research and Policy for UNICEF.
“Uprooted children can teach us a great deal about their needs and vulnerabilities if we are willing to hear them. Migration is inevitable, but the danger and discrimination experienced by refugee and migrant children doesn’t have to be.”
The risks, including sexual and gender-based violence, do not abate once these child migrants arrive in a country of destination, according to the IFRC.
A study, based on interviews with unaccompanied children from Horn of Africa countries who migrated to the United Kingdom, revealed that 72 percent of the respondents experienced more than one incident of sexual violence upon arrival – most of these incidents happened in the first 12 months after their arrival in the UK.
This shows that their safety is not guaranteed, even after reaching the desired destination country, added Rocca.
“If there isn’t enough protection in the country of destination, there is a very high risk of being exploited and exposed to the violence. These vulnerable people can also be forced to the labour market.”
In Tijuana, a girl from Honduras waits for a present from a nongovernmental organization outside an empty warehouse used as a shelter for migrants. Photograph: Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP
By Amanda Chuzi
President Donald Trump opened his Oval Office address on 8 January with these words: “There is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.” In one respect, he’s right. There is a growing humanitarian crisis at the border, but not for lack of a border wall – the crisis is growing because of the Trump administration’s illegal and inhumane policies toward asylum seekers.
As a law student enrolled in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, I spent the first week of the new year volunteering in Tijuana with an organization that provides legal services to asylum seekers. The organization, Al Otro Lado, serves individuals who hope to present themselves to US officials at the port of San Ysidro, the largest land border crossing in the United States. I use the word “hope” because the Trump administration has effectively prevented thousands of people – including many women and children – from exercising their legal right to apply for asylum by blocking their path to the port of entry itself.
Under domestic and international law, any immigrant who arrives at a US port of entry has a right to apply for asylum. The process is not easy and involves multiple interviews to determine whether an individual meets the narrow, categorical definition of a “refugee” under US law. Many asylum seekers will languish in detention while awaiting their turn before an immigration judge, without any opportunity to collect evidence or consult an attorney. Most will have their applications denied. But everyone is entitled to this process. The government must allow families at the border to present themselves and claim asylum.
Immigrants who arrive at the Mexican entrance to San Ysidro sign up for an informal waiting list and take a number. “La Lista” was developed and managed by Mexican immigration officials and others in response to the US government’s policy of allowing only a small number of people to present themselves each day. It is a primitive system, recorded by hand in a composition notebook and relayed only by word of mouth. The numbers are scratched on to tiny pieces of scrap paper, which migrants guard closely as they wait their turn. The wait can take weeks or even months.
This system should not have to exist; the situation that US policies have created is patently illegal and unquestionably responsible for the growing humanitarian crisis at the southern border. I met dozens of families with young children who were living in shelters and tent cities, patiently waiting for their numbers to be read off La Lista. These families had no food, income, or access to basic needs like medical care. They expressed fear of street crime and the practical challenges of living without documentation. Those who could work had a disincentive to seeking employment in Tijuana, because any evidence of potential stability in Mexico might hurt their asylum cases in the United States.
Moreover, the administration’s policy of punishing families by making them wait at the border fails to deter migrants, many of whom are fleeing violence and repression from hostile government actors. I advised some families not to approach the border at all. I tried to be realistic about the hardships they would face even after they successfully crossed on to US soil. I will never forget the looks of desperation on the faces of the men and women I counseled. Fathers told me they had to take the chance for their little girls. Rape victims told me they could not return home and face their attackers. They all told me they understood the risks. But what choice did they have?
If President Trump is genuinely concerned with the growing humanitarian crisis at the border, he should take immediate action to permit asylum seekers to present themselves to immigration officials. The law is clear on the issue – immigrants have the right to apply for asylum at any port of entry and between ports of entry. What’s clearer is that his policies have had, and will continue to have, devastating effects on thousands of well-meaning families who have not even begun the long and difficult asylum process.
More than 160 countries have agreed the UN Global Compact on Migration at a conference in Morocco following calls from CAFOD supporters and thousands of Catholics worldwide.
The migration pact follows the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees by the United Nations General Assembly earlier in 2018. The two agreements set out how governments will work together to help people on the move, particularly those who have been forced from their homes by persecution or poverty.
Catholics around the world have campaigned for governments to agree the compacts as part of a ‘Share the Journey’ campaign launched by Pope Francis in 2017, with CAFOD supporters in England and Wales walking more than 100,000 miles in solidarity with displaced people.
What are the global compacts?
The global compacts on migrants and refugees are the result of negotiations which started following a UN agreement in 2016 called the ‘New York Declaration’. This set out a process for countries to cooperate in dealing with the unprecedented number of people globally who were migrating because of war, the changing climate or in search of a better life.
Both agreements are seen as a step forward because they recognise that many migrants and refugees face common challenges and vulnerabilities.
The migration compact sets out how to assist people at all the stages of their journey – ensuring they can leave their homes without unnecessary danger, reducing the risk of exploitation and trafficking, and helping them to access basic services such as healthcare and education when they arrive in new countries.
The refugee compact seeks to make sure that countries which receive the largest number of refugees are given support. This is something the Holy Father has called for, as the majority of displaced people are living in countries which suffer from high levels of poverty themselves.
The agreement states the need to tackle the reasons why people are forced from their homes, including disasters resulting from climate change and damage to the environment.
The compact also notes that faith groups have an important role to play in helping refugees, including the role that the Church and other religious organisations play in preventing conflict and helping to build peace.
Global Compacts are a ‘testament to Pope’s leadership’
Graham Gordon, Head of Policy at CAFOD, said that the adoption of the agreements showed that “governments have responded to calls from their citizens” to support displaced people, noting that “tens of thousands of Catholics have walked over 100,000 miles in solidarity with people on the move.”
“Pope Francis has said that our response to the needs of migrants will be a ‘test of our humanity’, so the fact that the vast majority of states are joining the Global Compact is a positive sign.
“It’s in everyone’s interests that countries work together to support at every stage of their journey those who have left their homes in search of a better life. This is especially important if we are to prevent people from falling into the hands of traffickers and criminal gangs.”
The Holy See, under the Pope’s supervision, published guidance for governments ahead of the talks which led to the global compacts. These ‘action points’ were based on the support the Catholic Church is giving to refugees and migrants worldwide, including in countries such as Colombia, Nigeria and Lebanon.
Graham Gordon said: “The Global Compact and its sister document on refugees have been a testament to the leadership shown by the Pope and the Church during negotiations. Now we need to ensure that governments put their words into action and implement their provisions.” https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/36197
May 9, 2018: Catholic groups who are tracking the current situation in Honduras said the Trump administration’s May 4 decision to terminate the country’s temporary protected status and send back 57,000 immigrants disregards extremely dangerous conditions in the Central American country.
“You could not look at those conditions and make that judgment call. That’s not what was primary in their decision, in my opinion,” said Jean Stokan, justice coordinator of the Institute Justice Team for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. “There’s absolutely no conditions to go back … it’s a furnace of violence.”
When Honduras’ status last came up for review six months earlier, advocates for its extension cited gang violence, displacement, lack of housing and jobs, disease outbreaks and subsequent natural disasters that have made the country unsafe and impeded recovery from the hurricane that prompted its designation.
Since then, conditions have worsened after a highly contested November election led to widespread civil unrest; dozens of protesters were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands were jailed after demonstrations were met with violence from military police, said Stokan.
Stokan most recently visited Honduras in late January as part of an ecumenical delegation to observe and accompany the protesters and faith leaders who had been threatened, such as Jesuit Fr. Ismael “Melo” Moreno Coto. She witnessed militarization and instability and heard about extreme gang violence from Sisters of Mercy in the country.
Lawrence Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who also have sisters and affiliates in the country, was part of the same delegation. Couch said he saw “chaos and unrest” and “widespread discontent” in the country. “It was in this context that President [Donald] Trump has chosen to send back 57,000 Hondurans.”
Hondurans have been covered under temporary protected status, which grants them work authorization and protection from deportation, since early 1999, shortly after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in October 1998. The hurricane left one fifth of the population homeless, killed over 5,600 and destroyed infrastructure.
By law, the Department of Homeland Security is required to review conditions and renew a country’s temporary protected status in six-, 12- or 18-month increments as many times as necessary if dangerous conditions persist.
“The disruption of living conditions in Honduras from Hurricane Mitch … has decreased to a degree that it should no longer be regarded as substantial,” said a May 4 statement from Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. “Thus, as required under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated.”
But many advocates said the opposite was true. “As CLINIC laid out along with 640 different interfaith organizations, we believe that under the law the secretary was compelled to extend TPS for Honduras for 18 months,” said Lisa Parisio, an advocacy attorney for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, or CLINIC.
“The TPS program is designed to protect people from being returned to harm,” the Leadership Conference of Women Religious said in a May 8 statement. “That is precisely what Hondurans will face if they are forced to return.”
A May 4 statement from Alianza Americas, a network of immigrant organizations, pointed out that this January, the State Department warned that Honduras was unsafe for travel due to “violent crime and gang activity.” The determination that Hondurans can return “runs counter to both the haunting realities in Honduras and to Americans’ purported values of decency, compassion and humanity.”
Advocates who urged extension also noted effects on the approximately 53,000 U.S. citizen children of Honduran protected status holders, who could be separated from parents who don’t want to bring them to a dangerous country, and noted that status holders have jobs, businesses and homes that tie them to U.S. communities.
To be eligible for temporary protected status, immigrants must have continuously resided in the U.S. since their country was designated as protected. That means any Honduran immigrants who are covered by the status have been living in the U.S. since Jan. 5, 1999 — over 19 years.
These deep U.S. roots could put temporary protected status holders in even more danger when they are required to return to Honduras Jan. 5, 2020, Parisio said. Returners with few connections in Honduras, who are perceived to have “American wealth” and U.S. relatives, “would be prime targets for those looking to extort and do harm to them.”
Expelling the status holders could also further destabilize Honduras because one in six Hondurans depend on remittances sent from the U.S., Parisio added, resulting in “more people coming to the U.S. border seeking safety.”
Exacerbating problems in Honduras, then refusing to help those who flee from them, is a pattern in U.S. policy, said Stokan.
“It isn’t just that people are fleeing poverty or they’re fleeing violence, or even that they’re fleeing political chaos,” she said. “How did U.S. policies contribute to those very conditions of why there is violence?”
“Of course we need borders. Of course we need to prevent criminals from coming in, but we’re talking about families that are fleeing a country that’s on fire.”
Stokan pointed out that the U.S. recognized Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s government after a coup in which he took power in 2009, and again recognized the election results in 2017 despite suspicious circumstances.
Also concerning for Stokan are Trump’s disparaging comments about migrants who come to the U.S. seeking refuge, including a mostly Honduran caravan that recently traveled to the U.S. border to seek asylum.
“This is not about protecting U.S. people from some threat,” Stokan said. “Of course we need borders. Of course we need to prevent criminals from coming in, but we’re talking about families that are fleeing a country that’s on fire.”
This kind of rhetoric and action from Trump and his administration contributes to suspicions that temporary protected status decisions are being made on the basis of anti-immigrant sentiment rather than an analysis of country conditions.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to it that I can tell besides this anti-immigrant posture,” said Couch.
Honduras had received 18-month extensions each time its status came up for review under both Democratic and Republic administrations until the Trump administration disrupted that pattern six months ago. Then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke declined to make a renewal decision, resulting in an automatic 6-month extension.
Some advocates theorized that Duke recognized dangerous county conditions but was pressured by the Trump administration to end the status.
The Trump administration has also terminated the status for Nicaragua, Sudan, El Salvador, Haiti and Nepal, affecting about 310,540 people, while only extending it for 7,070 migrants from South Sudan and Syria. Decisions for 1,250 Somalian and Yemeni migrants are expected this July.
In many of its press releases announcing cancellations, although not in the most recent, the administration has called on Congress to legislate a pathway to legal status for temporary protected status holders, a call that advocates echo even as they doubt its sincerity.
“It’s fine to say that; weigh in and help make that happen,” said Stokan. She suggests advocates take a three-pronged approach to supporting temporaryprotected status holders: promoting legislative solutions, addressing root causes of migrants, and helping recipients regularize their status through other means if possible.
Advocates also called for a return to more welcoming values.
“To show a total disregard for the welfare of these people after they’ve been in our country for so long is unforgiveable,” Couch said. “We were built on welcoming people, trusting people.” To suddenly think of foreigners as evil or detrimental people who must be expelled is “not who we are as a people and we have to get beyond this current administration and get back to our values.”
[Maria Benevento is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Senators Graham and Durbin introduced a bipartisan Dream Act. Watch clips from their press conference, in which Graham calls on President Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress to treat the Dream Act population fairly.
IGNATIAN SOLIDARITY NETWORK
by ISN Staff
May 11, 2015
WASHINGTON—The U.S. immigrant detention system, which treats vulnerable immigrant detainees as criminals, needs extensive reforms, said representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Center for Migration Studies, May 11, as they released a report and policy recommendations. They urged Congress and the administration to build a system that affords due process protections, honors human dignity and minimizes the use of detentions.
“It is time for our nation to reform this inhumane system, which unnecessarily detains persons, especially vulnerable populations, who are no threat to us and who should be afforded due process and legal protections,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. Such vulnerable groups include asylum-seekers, families and children, and victims of human trafficking.
The report, “Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention System,” was written and produced by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS), a Catholic-based educational institute that studies migration, and Migration and Refugee Services of USCCB. More…