OAS Authorities and First Lady of Honduras Participate in Youth Conference of the Americas 2014

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  December 2, 2014

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, took part today together with the First Lady of Honduras, Ana García de Hernández, and the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin, in the inauguration of the OAS Youth Conference of the Americas 2014, in which various experts from governments and multilateral organizations debated “Migration and Education.”

In his opening remarks, Secretary General Insulza highlighted that “hundreds of millions of young people live in the Americas, and they will be the ones who enjoy or suffer, tomorrow, the decisions that our governments, our entrepreneurs, our creators are making today. The situation of young people, and their opinions, therefore, is important today, not tomorrow.”

“That is why,” said the Secretary General, “issues related to youth are at the center of attention of the Organization of American States.” Referring to the theme of the meeting, the OAS leader said that, for the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, migration is primarily an issue of young people, and that, among its causes, “economic factors are its main distinctive feature.” To alleviate these causes, he added, “education is the main path to overcome poverty and inequality.”

The First Lady of Honduras, for her part, after affirming that “our children and young people are our most valuable treasure and constitute an investment in the future of our nations,” focused on the theme of the meeting noting that the increase in the migration of minors from Central America this year “coincides with the increase in violence and homicides in our countries,” a situation being addressed by the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández. Many of the young migrants, said García de Hernández, “are expelled by the poverty and inequality in their countries of origin, extorted by organized crime, abused and kidnapped in the countries of transit, and deported if they are able to arrive in their destination country.”

The response to the problem, emphasized the First Lady, “should be based on a principle of shared responsibility, integration and coordination; joining efforts between the countries of origin, transit, and destination. In this sense, the countries of the ‘northern triangle’ of Central America and the United States have agreed to work on the design of a plan to find solutions in the short, medium and long term.”

The plan, continued the First Lady, has four strategic elements: make the productive sector more dynamic, develop human capital, improve citizen security and access to justice, and strengthen institutions. She explained that the development of human capital, in particular, involves “strengthening technical and vocational training for work and integration into the work force, broadening the coverage and quality of secondary education, improve housing, and improve nutrition and infant development.”

Upon concluding her address, García de Hernández called on the young participants in the Conference “not to be indifferent to this situation that is affecting thousands of young people in our Hemisphere.” Moreover, she appealed to the leaders of the hemisphere to “recognize the shared responsibility we have in this situation, and search for better solutions to create a fair and more humane world.”

For his part, the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin, welcomed the participants and explained that “our aim is to create a platform for young people to express themselves and be part of the discussion on what should be done to strengthen the position of young people in the Americas. In my view, no society can build peace, stability, and prosperity without focusing on young people.” Ambassador Ramdin said the conclusions of the event would be presented tomorrow, Wednesday December 3, to the member states of the Organization during a regular meeting of the Permanent Council.

The OAS Youth Conference of the Americas 2014 included three discussion panels titled “Youth Migration: Transforming the Americas;” “Creating Opportunity at Home & Abroad;” “The Way Forward: The Role of the Government and the Private Sector.” During the event, representatives of youth organizations and delegations from universities and schools in the Americas gathered to exchange points of view with experts from the OAS and the private sector, member states and observers, government representatives, intergovernmental organizations and civil society, on the relationship between education and migration; its impact on the decisions of young people to emigrate; the situation of young migrants, the challenges they face, and the possibilities they represent for the development of their countries of origin, as well as perspectives on what their countries of origin can do to offer them more opportunities.

Panel I: Youth Migration: Transforming the Americas

Luca Dall’Oglio, Chief of Mission of the Washington Office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that a consensus is emerging on the need to address migration as a global phenomenon, paying attention to the youth sector. “The migration of young people is too important to be ignored by political decision makers in our countries. A global response, with attention to youth segment is needed,” said the expert, who added that following the high level dialogue held by the United Nations last year, various priorities were established to ease and protect migration. “Youth is a pillar in the development agenda. To have sustainable development we need an effort to address the physical and emotional needs of young people,” he said.

The Principal Labor Markets Specialist of the Multilateral Investment Fund at the Inter‐American Development Bank (IDB), Jacqueline Mazza, said that historically the Americas has been a region of migrants from Europe, Asia, and Africa, a trend that changed starting in the 1970s, when the region began to experience an internal exchange of migrants. In this sense Mazza said today there is a significant flow of migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States and Canada, in the first instance, and to also to Europe, at the same time that there are internal migrations in Central America and South America, although this phenomenon is less documented. As an example, she said that 90% of migrants in Costa Rica are from Central America, particularly Nicaragua.

The Director General of Geostatistical Information, Analysis and Evaluation of the Ministry of Social Development of Mexico, Hugo Zertuche, explained what his country’s government is doing for social inclusion and improving the living conditions of the most vulnerable population through the program PROSPERA. He said that through government grants, which have improved the chances of access to health, education and other basic services have reduced the rates of migration, especially of young people. "Interventions offered by PROSPERA can have a positive impact on the internal migration of young people by facilitating their incorporation into universities or employment sources located outside their hometowns, and can also promote to stay in them with productive projects", he added.

Javier Sagredo, advisor on Democratic Governance and Citizen Security at the UN Development Programme (UNDP), talked about the dilemma related to the deprivations faced by young migrants in the region. Sagredo said that there have been advances in social justice in the region in recent years, but warned that there are still major vulnerabilities. In this context, he noted that many people who have managed to escape poverty could return to this situation if the economy worsens. The UNDP advisor noted that current policies contain some paradoxes that need to be solved, such that most of the investment in inclusion is destined to young people who are already included, and there is talk of a lack of young people´s commitment, but there are not many paths to integration, as youth employment proposals are ineffective.

Panel II: Creating Opportunities at Home and Abroad

The OAS Permanent Representative of Costa Rica, Ambassador Pablo Barahona, encouraged the youth of the region to be empowered on issues that concern them and be part of the search for and the generation of solutions. "Young people are the carriers of the germ of change, which can and should dare, those who have less to lose if they start today and those who have more to lose if they continue hoping that solutions come from heaven," said the Central American diplomat. He added that "youth must be cultivated and prepared to take responsibility, dare to think, while states must ensure minimum institutional conditions that provide stability. What is needed is action, not talk.” Finally, the Costa Rican diplomat urged young people to "remain tolerant, and participate in politics. The State is at the base of the solutions, but not in the center, it is just a facilitator. The rule of law to avoid impunity and give plain rules is the only way to create equal opportunities in the places of origin and destination."

For her part, Winnete McInstosh-Ambrose, owner of a bakery in Washington, DC, told her personal story as a migrant who arrived with her family in the United States when he was 19, and was able to advance through will and intense studying. McInstosh-Ambrose was born in a small town in Trinidad and Tobago, and attended high school in her country, moved to the United States to study computer engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and completed a PhD in medical engineering at Johns Hopkins, in addition to a degree in French in Paris. Currently, she divides her time between running her bakery and working in a laboratory at the National Institute of Health (NIH) of the United States.

Lori Kaplan, President of the Latin American Youth Center, explained that the aim of the center that she manages is to welcome young migrants to the United States, to facilitate their integration; especially into the educational system, and to serve as a support to this sector of the population, especially on the issue of education for employment. Kaplan said the Center aims to provide the "social support they need to create a new life in America" because it considers that integration becomes easier the higher the level of education that young people bring from their countries.

Meanwhile, Belkis Vicente, Coordinator of the Generations Program of the Hanns R. Neumann Foundation, explained her works in the area of "Trifinio" located in the triple border region shared by El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Vicente said that this is an area of coffee plantations, and that the objective of the program is to integrate local youth into coffee sector "so they have opportunities to stay and succeed, and to not have the need to emigrate." Vicente added that the program seeks to educate young people on tasks feel able to complete, and as an example, she said that in the coffee sector there is a high demand for mechanics. "We want to empower youth in good practices in the area of coffee to make this a profitable business and have no need to leave their communities," she said.

Panel III: The Way Forward: The Role of the Government and the Private Sector

John Burchett, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations for U.S. states and local, Latin America and Canada of Google, said that both the internet and business in general are ways to help young people find better opportunities in their home countries, and highlighted the need to improve connectivity in countries where digital tools are not yet widespread. He added that "education is a fundamental component for young people to learn to use the tools of the internet and have opportunities to work from their homes, and businesses must also encourage them in this way."

The Director of the Office of Migrant Education of the U.S. Department of Education, Lisa Ramirez, said the program that she directs works with people under 21 years old, and one of its main goals is to provide educational opportunities for migrants. Ramirez stressed the importance of new technologies in the education of young people, and said in her office young migrants are trained to electronically transfer their student records so they can be presented in different study centers and move on with their lives. Another area of work of the Office of Migrant Education is in training on how to search and apply for different types of scholarships, "an area that migrants generally do not know how to use."

For her part, the Permanent Representative of Saint Kitts and Nevis to the OAS, Jacinth Henry-Martin, said that governments must promote enabling environments and strategically coordinate the provision of social, educational and cultural services. The Caribbean diplomat also said citizens should be educated to accept the diversity and benefits from the contributions that migrants can make to society. In conclusion, Ambassador Henry-Martin stressed that "the focus of migration seems to have neglected the fact that they are people with dreams. Governments have a responsibility to begin to recognize that they are human beings with intrinsic worth about their contributions."

The Executive Director of the Young Americas Business Trust (YABT), Valerie Lorena, said that entrepreneurship is an effective tool for youth development. In this regard, she said the YABT makes alliances with governments and the private sector to promote projects managed by young people, citing as an example the Talent and Innovation Competition of the Americas (TIC Americas), an international platform for enterprise managed by YABT with the support of the OAS and private companies. Lorena announced that at the 2015 Summit of the Americas, to be held in Panama in April, the TIC Americas will include youth cultural undertakings, in addition to traditional innovative ventures related to social and economic areas.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The B-Roll of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.

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