Questioning the inter-regional agreement which seeks to deter migration from Central America while ignoring its root causes
Climate Change and Central American Migrants
The recently released Global Climate Risk Index (2016) reconfirmed the fact that it is generally the less developed countries and poorest regions of the world that are the most vulnerable to the impacts of global climate change. This trend is true for Central America, where the region’s four poorest countries – Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras (World Bank, 2013) – rank amongst the top fifteen in the world for long-term climate risk (Global Climate Risk Index, 2016). In these countries, already plagued by overwhelming social, environmental and economic issues, increased pressure from climate change places stability, peace and prosperity at great risk, exacerbating the conditions that already cause many children and youth to migrate without official authorisation (Martin et.al, 2014).
In 2014, this condition triggered what U.S. President Barack Obama referred to at the time as “an urgent humanitarian situation”. Over 70,000 unaccompanied children and minors arrived at the US-Mexico border, more than 70% of whom were from Central America’s Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (Department of Homeland Security, 2014). Fleeing crime, violence and a lack of educational and economic opportunities (Hanson, 2016), this wave of young immigrants represent a demographic for which contemplating a future at home is contemplating a future without hope. This demographic is not insignificant. With over 50% of the regional population under 25 years of age (UN World Population Prospects, 2015), and more than one in five adolescents neither in school, nor employed (Organización Internacional del Trabajo, 2013), there are well over one million young people facing similar circumstances to those that have already made the difficult decision to migrate to the United States (World Bank, 2016).
In response to this situation, a joint-regional proposal called The Alliance for Prosperity Plan in the Northern Triangle of Central America (APP) was launched in late 2014 “to curtail the reasons for migration” (Iesue, 2016). According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs however, the plan has received widespread criticism from NGOs, CBOs, human rights organizations, immigration advocates, and policymakers who claim that this top-down business-as usual approach to development will not deliver the intended impact.
The plan proposes to increase opportunities for young people by increasing foreign investment and large-scale infrastructure projects in the region (APP, 2014). However critics of the plan argue that it fails to take into account the long term social and environmental costs of these projects which have historically been the cause of displacement and human migration (Iesue, 2016) or the climate-related impacts that may reduce project viability.
According to UNICEF, climate change in the coming years will increasingly be the cause for large-scale migrations of people which will be led in most cases by youth who are more willing to take risks (Martin et al., 2014). Proactive action to develop regional solutions that invest in youth opportunity while simultaneously building climate resilience is essential to providing youth with a reason not to migrate. Without this, the United States and Central America – this unique region of interwoven lives, economies, food sheds and cultures – will end up facing a tragic humanitarian crisis in the years to come.
Future Solutions – Our Role
In SERES, creating this sort of proactive solution is our goal. In working with youth who are discovering and addressing climate-based issues within their own communities, our programs build a local foundation of leadership, fortifying a network of like-minded leaders regionally and internationally. Our current focus is on building this presence in Central America’s Northern Triangle.
The youth leaders of SERES have already constructed, and made real, these reasons for hope. Their action plans have made a difference in their communities in concrete ways by cleaning polluted rivers, creating nurseries, banning the use of plastic bags, and providing environmental education to community members of all ages. In the face of the challenges that affect millions, these changes may seem small. But the youth leadership that has spurred these local projects is what is most essential in forming a more peaceful, prosperous, and resilient region for generations to come. Supporting opportunities for leadership development, entrepreneurship, and growth of the kind that SERES facilitates allows Central American youth to empower themselves in order to envision and build the future of the region.
-Corrina Grace, SERES Executive Director and Co-Founder