Calls for increased protection to vulnerable children
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) applauds the Administration and the Inter-American Development Bank’s announcements to scale up their investments in Central America over the long term. At the same time they must also significantly augment the protection response, especially to vulnerable children, in the short-term.
“The announcement for a long-term strategic investment in Central America is critical to address the root causes of the economic, social, and political crises in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala,” said Bill O’Keefe, vice president for Government Relations and Advocacy for Catholic Relief Services. “For far too long, children and youth have borne the brunt of these crises.”
As Bishop Richard E. Pates said on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in July, “We cannot separate this humanitarian crisis of migration from the fundamental ‘root causes’ existing in these countries … violence, gang activity, narcotics, weapons and human trafficking, inadequate institutions of law enforcement and corruption/impunity, poverty, as well as unequal and inadequate economic development. These factors mutually reinforce one another.”
CRS believes that for any investment to provide the opportunity that children and youth in Central America deserve, it must interrupt violence and include targeted poverty eradication. With the understanding that the most dangerous places tend to be urban areas and the poorest places are usually rural areas, this investment needs to have a two pronged approach that addresses the needs of those communities that suffer high levels of violence, and provides real opportunities to remote, impoverished communities.
“Too often, so called economic development has not reached the poor and marginalized,” O’Keefe said. “Economic success in Central America will be measured in job creation, educational improvements and school attendance, and strengthening of families.”
Youth in particular must be at the center of these development efforts, as they experience particularly high levels of unemployment and it is difficult for them to stay in school because of gangs. CRS welcomes the plan to collaborate with faith-based organizations to provide at-risk youth with life skills, job training, and recreation activities, as well the plans to improve 900 schools.
“Clearly, political will by the governments is necessary, particularly to address corruption and fight the criminal elements making life so dangerous for so many children and youth,” O’Keefe said. “By the same token, much can and has been accomplished through local and international groups.”
CRS joins Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (MRS/USCCB) in applauding the Administration’s announcement of in-country processing for some child refugees in their home countries. Helping even a few thousand at-risk youth to secure protection and avoid the perilous journey is critical to protect their lives and dignity.
With MRS/USCCB, CRS will advocate for an expansion of this program to serve more children in need of protection. Moreover, CRS joins MRS/USCCB in urging that the new program should not become a justification for interdicting children without due process or denying them relief once they arrive in the United States.
“We must not repeat the lessons learned during in-country processing of the 1980s, when some refugees’ lives were tragically lost,” O’Keefe stated.
CRS and MRS/USCCB urge the US government to develop mechanisms for the safety and protection of each child throughout the process. Such mechanisms should include safe transport and shelter for minors and their families; Child Protection Experts at each processing site; and Emergency Transit Centers (ETC) as needed.
“Safety during the process and ensuring that other protection mechanisms, such as asylum and resettlement, remain available to these children will be keys to the program’s success,” concluded Kevin Appleby, director of migration of policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency eases suffering and provides assistance to people in need in 93 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality.