The context of migration before the Central American exodus caravans

The context of migration before the Central American exodus caravans. Human mobility is one of the most visible consequences of the globalized world, the product of a neoliberal model in which the poorest seem to have no place.

The review of multiple studies relating to international migration in NCA reveals that migratory processes have traditionally been the product of socio-political and economic dynamics that can be traced back to the structural problems of each country, which in the 1960s gave rise to armed conflicts, particularly in El Salvador and Guatemala. These conflicts, however, also affected neighboring Honduras, which became the center of operations for the contras. Honduras was also part of a “good neighbor policy” with the United States, established there in the 1980s; this changed as a result of the coup d’état in 2009 and the geopolitical interests of the US.

In 2018, it was estimated that more than 300,000 people annually – the majority of whom were young – embarked on the journey to the United States from countries in NCA. This represents 821 people per day and 34 individuals every hour. Human mobility is one of the major global challenges of today, as the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) proposes when it asks itself.

how migration should be managed. Public debates include on the one hand discussions on the drivers of migration, and issues regarding national security, controls and “border closures;” and on the other hand human safety, and freedom of movement, including for individuals who voluntarily make decisions based on the right to migrate.

Traditional migration routes

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development considers migration an instrument with great equalizing potential, whether within or between countries, and relevant to the achievement of all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The implementation of planned and consensual migration policies could contribute to proper migration management. The Global Compact on Migration, undersigned by 160 countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and facilitated by Mexico and Switzerland, initially indicated that migrants contribute to sustainable development.5 As the discussions advanced and the host/destination countries felt pressured, the approach to migration management that was finally adopted was based on “safe, orderly and regular” migration.

This Compact seeks to find a balance between access to and control over labor markets, and between the costs and benefits of migration, recognizing only regular migrants as rights holders. Despite having been considered an opportunity to improve migration governance and to tackle the challenges associated with current migration, its impact has been limited, with migration reaching levels generally only seen in areas of conflict or war, as a result of structural inequalities and the specific conditions of growing violence in the Americas.

Each year NCA statistics include data on the thousands of deportees who return to their countries by air or by land, and who, upon return, face the same adverse conditions that forced them to leave in the first place.

This situation often leaves them no choice but to migrate once again. As government bodies take returnees to the nearest bus terminal with the expectation that they will return home, returnees likely come face to face with other migrants who are leaving in the opposite direction, full of hope. Many Central Americans, particularly from Honduras and El Salvador, move in caravans or by paying migrant smugglers (known as coyotes or polleros) to take them to the United States. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the estimated cost of using a smuggler was between $8,000-$10,000 USD. This, for some, is a life-long investment.

This trip is also a path full of both hope and trauma. Support is needed at every step, but more importantly the root causes of this mobility need to be addressed. International financial institutions and other sectors have promoted the idea that greater economic growth will bring a better quality of life for a country’s population. However, such growth does not always reach most of the population because of economic, social and political inequality and inequity. Economic growth on its own is insufficient to stop mass migration.

In accordance with data from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and based on the information from the Bilateral Migration Matrix 2017, it was estimated that nine per cent of citizens of NCA reside in the United States. These numbers were taken one year after the expedited deportation policies implemented by the Trump administration began in 2016.