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


IRC: VP Harris must prioritize local humanitarian assistance and capacity-building to address Central America migration crisis

Washington, D.C., June 9, 2021 — As a growing humanitarian crisis in northern Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) continues to force thousands of people to flee for safety in neighboring countries and the United States, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has released a new report with policy recommendations for the current U.S. administration to address the most urgent drivers of migration from the region.

Meghan Lopez, the IRC’s regional vice president for Latin America, said: “Living conditions in northern Central America are worsening every day, only intensified by the ongoing consequences of COVID-19. People face immense challenges: economic slowdowns make it difficult to meet the most basic needs, like buying food or accessing health care; violence levels are rising—both on the streets and in the homes—especially affecting women, girls, and members of the LGBTQI+ community; and natural disasters leave behind more severe impacts every time. These are among the main reasons why people usually see in migration a beacon of hope, sometimes relocating within their own countries, but mostly looking for safety in others, like Mexico or the U.S.

“Historically, migration issues in northern Central America have been addressed by the United States government with policies focused primarily on economic development and immigration enforcement, including inconsistent application of international law. These measures have been insufficient in recognizing urgent humanitarian needs of those seeking safety.”

The IRC recommends the following 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.
    -Provide humanitarian cash support. These programs allow people to satisfy immediate needs but must be implemented in concert with additional aid to help rebuild their lives and prevent funding migration journey.
    -Develop a robust shelter system. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala lack specialized and family shelters systems; the only existing shelters are activated on a temporary basis in the case of natural disasters. Designing guidelines and requirements is also necessary.
    -Improve access to information. Continuous collaboration with trusted organizations is necessary to reach populations of concern who remain hidden and to communicate with them about available services.
    -Fund case management. Support services and access to resources are necessary within countries of origin, regional countries, and in the U.S. while asylum seekers await the adjudication of their claim or make plans for safety.
  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 IDPs can provide life-sustaining opportunities for them. Ensuring access to reliable and timely information is key to help them assess protection options and make the best decisions for themselves. IDPs can be supported through community and integration services.
  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 unique 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. **
    -Assist in breaking the cycle of chronic violence. Although efforts have been made to counter the consequences of weak judicial systems, repressive zero-tolerance criminal policies, and lagging police reforms, there is more to be done. Actions can include judicial and police reforms to eliminate a culture of impunity; fostering Early Childhood Development (ECD); preventing violence with behavioural change management processes; and developing multi-dimensional community-based violence prevention programs, including prenatal and maternal health interventions.
    -Utilize a trauma informed approach and account for wrap-around services for survivors of violence. People who have lived in gang-controlled communities will likely need additional support to obtain employment and be successful in a professional environment. Mental health and psychosocial support is necessary to assist in providing services to individuals who have experienced trauma. Trauma informed care must account for access to not only support services but also provide access to justice.
    -Support regional community leadership in addressing the impacts of climate change. Investments must be made to assist local community leaders in committing to making societal and structural changes in their communities.

How the IRC addresses the crisis in northern Central America

The IRC operates in the region across the arc of crisis. Currently, the response teams in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are expanding and scaling-up programs to deliver services and humanitarian assistance to people on the move, refugees, asylum-seekers, and returnees.

Nowadays, the IRC’s response includes capacity-building support to local partners to increase and improve the availability and quality of services in northern Central America and in northern and southern Mexican border towns, as well as in Mexico City. The programming includes: prevention and protection for survivors of gender-based violence—primarily women, girls, and the LGBTQI+ community; economic recovery and development; mental health and psychosocial support; child protection; cultural orientation; prevention and mitigation of case management; and access to critical information through its dynamic information and moderation platforms: CuéntaNos (northern Central America) and InfoDigna (Mexico), both part of the Global Signpost project.

In the U.S., the IRC has served thousands of individuals, children and families seeking asylum and protection before, during and since the arrival of a large number of immigrants, including asylum-seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border—the symptoms of the real crisis taking place in northern Central America.


Charlie Ozuturk

Everardo Esquivel
International Rescue Committee
+52 81 8201 2045