OAS Secretary General Calls for a Regional Plan of Action to Address “the Humanitarian Drama of the Child Migrants”

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  July 16, 2014

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today called on member states to coordinate a Regional Plan of Action to unify the policies of the governments of the Hemisphere to address “the humanitarian drama” of the child migrants, in reference to the nearly 50,000 people detained in the first semester of 2014 by authorities in the United States.

The OAS leader set forth the position in his opening address to the International Conference on Migration, Childhood and Family being held in Tegucigalpa, which was also attended by the President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández. Secretary General Insulza also said the children, mostly from Central America, should be given “ideal conditions of protection for their age, together with the search for integral solutions to the problems that generated their current condition.”

Insulza emphasized the need to address the issue with special respect for the rights of minors. He recalled that “on various occasions, the Inter-American Committee on Human Rights (IACHR) has said that no human being is illegal and that all people have a right to migrate and to request and receive asylum.” He said that along those lines, “for the IACHR and other international organizations like the UNHCR it is very concerning that this ‘serious humanitarian situation’ is not being addressed from a perspective of human rights and the protection of children, which would imply that the initial consideration would be to guarantee these children access to procedures for the determination of their condition of refugees, instead of seeing them as “illegal” migrants, with respect to which the main measures foreseen are migratory detention and deportation to their countries of origin.”

From the same perspective, Secretary General Insulza insisted in his criticism of those who deal with the problem from a point of view almost exclusively of national security that typifies the children as “illegal migrants,” instead of visualizing the phenomenon as a humanitarian crisis. He added that, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), “it is likely that more than 50 percent of the minors classify as refugees,” and reiterated that for the IACHR “no human being is illegal.” Similarly, he rejected the lack of due process and the obstacles facing the lawyers and NGO representatives in helping the minors at the detention centers, as reflected by the IACHR four years ago in its its “Report on Immigration in the United States: Detention and Due Process”.

In that context the OAS leader warned that “it is essential that the discussions and above all the terminology changes to avoid that these children become victims of aggression and xenophobic and discriminatory acts and can access mechanisms of protection.”

Secretary General Insulza offered to the states of the region the mechanisms of protection and the spaces for dialogue of the Organization in the joint search for integral solutions to the current crisis, as well as to discuss possible preventative actions in the long term. He insisted, moreover, on the need to generate “a regional plan of action to allow for the coordination of actions between all the countries that are protagonists of the migratory phenomenon in our Hemisphere. I do so emphasizing the urgency of addressing in a joint manner – all the states involved, international organizations, civil society organizations and the private sector – the possible strategies to overcome the conditions that are worsening this process in the countries of origin.”

The OAS Secretary General also referred to the reasons that motivate minors from Central America to attempt migration, among them poverty and violence, but focused his address on the conditions of the phenomenon in development and the possible paths to its solution. He said that while the migratory issue is not new in the region, and has always been dealt with in a unilateral way, “the concern has been growing in recent years because of the humanitarian situation experienced today by tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and adolescents that cross the southern border of the United States.” According to data recently published by the Government of the United States, in the first six months of 2014 47,017 minors were detained by the Border Patrol, said the OAS Secretary General. According to this data, 29 percent of the minors detained are Hondurans, 24 percent are Guatemalans, 23 percent are Salvadorans, and 22 percent are Mexicans; the majority are between 14 and 17 years old and 40 percent are girls.

“The analysis of the regions and communities of origin of the children detained at the border and the reasons they migrated alone vary: the majority of the Guatemalan children come from rural areas, with high indices of poverty, and say they are migrating in search of better living conditions, while the Salvadorans and Hondurans come from extremely violent regions, and believe that the risk of staying is worse than that of emigrating,” he said.

For his part, President Hernandez said the "drama of migrant children requires a radical change in approach." The problem is not new, he said, but has recently reached dimensions that make it "different from the drama and the collective phenomenon that it embodies" citing as an example that according to the U.S. government, between June 2013 and June 2014 the migration of unaccompanied Honduran minors increased by approximately 1,670 percent. Most of them, he said, come from the regions most affected by drug trafficking, where there is more violence and crime. "We are aware that poverty and lack of development and opportunities are a constant in the same areas," he added.

The President of Honduras said "this phenomenon requires that we all think and act differently and with greater levels of coordination between our countries." The Honduran President stressed in particular that the Central American countries cannot tackle the problem in isolation, because they are do not have the capacity to confront international crime gangs who profit from this problem. “This means that we will not be able to effectively contain the outward flow of migrants in the medium term, the odyssey will continue with the abuses and tortures that they suffer along the way, the crisis will continue that is created by the massive inflow to the United States and the difficulties for the reception of the deportees," he said. "These four components of the phenomenon represent a large crisis, and together they constitute a true humanitarian crisis without precedent," he added.

President Hernández gave the example of working together to solve a crisis of shared responsibility with the "Plan Colombia" that United States produced against drug trafficking and organized crime in the South American country early in the last decade. "There they worked together; the co-responsibility between those who produce the demand for drugs in the north and between those who produce the drugs in the south was assumed. However, these results have led to the displacement of the organized crime groups to the northern triangle of Central America," he said, referring to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. "This has escalated migratory flows," he added.

President Hernandez said that his government "has set up an ambitious program" to address the problem, but said it is necessary to make "an energetic call" so that the rulers of the countries of the region, particularly his country, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and the United States, "take in the very short term the inevitable political decisions necessary to address and resolve this problem immediately, and we need to address the root problem, because patches will not resolve anything." We must "accept the shared responsibility," he said.

The conference also featured the participation, among others, of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, Hugo Martinez, Guatemala, Luis Fernando Carrera; the Director of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Socorro Flores; the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration of the Department of State of the United States, Simon Henshaw; the representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations Consuelo Vidal; UNICEF Representative Susan Bissel; and UNHCR Director for Central America, Cuba and Mexico Fernando Protti-Alvarado.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

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

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