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IRC: Addressing the migration crisis in northern Central America requires actions beyond centers for returnees

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Guatemala City, Guatemala, July 12, 2021 — After the United States and Guatemala governments announced the inauguration of a reception center for people who have been expelled from the U.S., the International Rescue Committee (IRC) reminds the global community that efforts should be aimed at comprehensively addressing the root causes of migration in the region.

Julio Rank-Wright, the IRC’s Deputy Regional Director for Latin America, said: “People in northern Central America face immense challenges, that range from economic slowdowns that affect their capacity to meet basic needs, to rising levels of violence in their communities and in their homes. These challenges are exacerbated by previous natural disasters that produced lasting, severe impacts. These root causes are among the main reasons why people are forced to displace in their search for safety.

“In 2020, more than 21,000 people were internally displaced in Guatemala. This is usually the first step people take before encountering similar problems that hinder the possibility of rebuilding their lives. When unable to resolve this first challenge, they are forced to leave, in hopes of finding better opportunities in other countries, like Mexico and, mostly, the U.S.

“Supporting people who return to their country of origin is key, but not the only solution. In order to solve the migration crisis in the region we need to develop durable solutions that are both focused on development programs—like it has historically happened—but also design and deliver programs that recognize and respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of those seeking safety in the region.”

Recently, the IRC issued a report with a series of steps to meaningfully address the humanitarian crisis of which migration is a last resort:

  1. Invest in humanitarian assistance in the region. The first necessary investment is to provide resources to meet the specific needs of those who are internally displaced or migrants, including humanitarian cash support, developing a robust shelter system and improving access to information.

  2. Support opportunities for people to find safety in their communities of first refuge. Money, legal support for asylum claims, and psychosocial support are among the priority needs for internally displaced people (IDP). Programs that address cash and protection needs for IDP can provide life-sustaining opportunities for them.

  3. Support returnees to reestablish their lives in their country of origin. Those who return either voluntarily or involuntarily to their country of origin return with new skills, new perspectives, and with proven track record to be innovative and risk taking. Returnees represent a unique workforce and population that can add and contribute to their country of origin, however they face many of the same challenges as new migrants face—lack of understanding of systems, lack of access to resources, and need for wrap-around protection and psychosocial support.

  4. Build protection capacity and alternative pathways in the region. The United States government should work with local partners and NGOs to strengthen protection capacity and uphold the right to seek asylum in alignment with international law. With protection forward support from organizations, the government can work with NGOs to receive direct referrals for vulnerable populations, such as LGBTQI+ asylum seekers. Furthermore, significantly increasing in country resettlement and ensuring timely regional refugee processing will serve to provide protection from the existing risks of violence, trafficking, and life-threatening migration journeys.

  5. Address the leading root drivers of migration. Actions should include assisting in breaking the cycle of chronic violence; utilizing a trauma informed approach and account for wrap-around services for survivors of violence; and supporting regional community leadership in addressing the impacts of climate change.

Download the full report:

Communities in Crisis: Policy Recommendations to Address the Humanitarian Crisis in Northern Central America

How the IRC addresses the crisis in northern Central America

The IRC serves individuals and families in vulnerable situations or at increased risk for violence and displacement, including internally displaced individuals, returnees, women, girls, youth, and members of the LGBTQ+ community who are survivors of gender-based violence. The IRC responds at multiple levels: supporting people in need directly; building and strengthening capacities of local organizations through technical training and systems building; and advocating at the institutional and government level for improved, more inclusive and effective violence response and prevention.

The IRC’s programming in northern Central America includes multi-purpose cash transfers to satisfy basic needs; the creation of safe spaces for women, youth and the LGBTQ+ community; case management and psychosocial support; and CuéntaNos, a digital platform--part of the Global Signpost project--to provide people with critical, up-to-date information and two-way communication and support with trained moderators.