Must we too leave with the caravans?

by Mary Ellen Brody

We called it a reverse caravan when 70+ faith leaders from 14 states travelled to Honduras last month to investigate the root causes of migration. It seemed an apt name at the time with caravans in the news on a regular basis. Now as I write about it, it seems less apt since the only thing we had in common with those groups traveling North was that we travelled together with a shared purpose and we travelled the same route in the opposite direction.

Some of the differences in our groups include the fact that our travel wasn’t forced, wasn’t on foot, bus or train as we headed south. We knew we’d be accepted as welcome visitors when we met immigration officers, and we knew we’d be travelling home soon with our pre-purchased air tickets.

My group stayed in an urban area where we were able to visit a women’s group with 16 sectors throughout the country. These women document abuses against women and the impunity that accompanies the crimes. We heard of rapes, disappearances, domestic abuse, threats against human rights workers and murders of women working to defend the environment. The word femicide was used as commonly as we use feminism.

We also visited a school (pre-school to high-school) where I asked in each classroom that I entered if anyone had any family members who had to migrate. All but one or two hands went up in each room.

Visiting three small communities (30-40 families in each group), we heard of how they had been displaced and were currently under threat of yet another displacement. All were poor working families paying rent but facing the possibility of losing their modest shelters because although one community was gifted the land by its owner, no documents exist to prove that gift. Another community, having been relocated to the river banks, is currently being threatened with removal because a parking area is needed for a nearby condominium. In the third community, a young mother told how police and paramilitary had come to violently put them out of their homes. After her daughter’s face was cut during the process, she went to one of the community’s exit areas  found and machinery ready to destroy their homes. She climbed on the machine with her young children. She told us that she had never done anything like that before. Since the press began to focus on her action she had a way of addressing the country’s president, Juan Orlando Hernandez. She asked him “what do you want us to do? Where do you want us to go? Must we too leave with the caravans?”

All those with whom we spoke recognized the dangers involved in migrating. None of them really wanted to leave their country. Many of them felt they had no other choice. Yes, they said they wanted a better way to live, but if we listened more deeply what was really being said was they wanted to live. The possible risks they face in migrating are small compared to the factual abuses they experience on a regular basis.

President Trump’s plan to send back more asylum seekers  is not a solution to the problems that exist in the “northern triangle”, nor is sending funds that are meant to decrease violence. Those funds are used to purchase arms (that have even less checks than the arms sold here) and to increase police and military presence. Guns often are shared with gangs and paramilitary that cause the violence that so many must flee. Those arriving asking for asylum rarely qualify because they don’t have documentation of the events necessitating their request. Most do not report crimes to the police because they are not trusted. Police/militia collaborate with a government that is believed to be fraudulently elected.

The increase of migration of women and children from Honduras is due to a failed state where people leave to seek a life free from violence and threats and to find health, employment and respect for human rights. US policy and foreign capital contributes to migration through the negative impact it has on the populace. Our likely involvement in the 2009 coup that has destabilized the country, US recognition of a government not accepted by the people, as well as the systematic extraction of natural resources by multinational corporations all contribute to this increase.

Our “Root Causes Delegation” envisions a world where migration is not forced, nor criminalized, but rather understood as a choice for self-determination and survival.

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