Peter Novecosky, OSB

Violence breeds migration

It’s summer holiday time in the country. People are going to the lake, taking a trip, enjoying more family time and putting up their feet.

Meanwhile prairie farmers worry about their crops as rain continues to fall in record amounts. Roads are washed out in many areas; even the Trans Canada highway was closed for a time in Saskatchewan. Tornados have been sighted in the province. Recently, some Maritime provinces got hit hard by storms and face the stress of cleaning up and getting on with their lives.

While the weather has created havoc in the prairies, a comment often heard is, “We don’t have it as bad as other places.”

It’s not as bad as in Nigeria, where more than 200 girls kidnapped months ago are still not free. More children and women have been captured, seemingly with impunity. Israel and Palestine suffer from daily violence. Latin America continues to flood the United States with emigrants from violence. Recently, unaccompanied youth have made up an unusually large percentage of these migrants.

Eskinder Negash, director of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, in the Department of Health and Human Services, is now in charge of more than 50,000 Central American children who have been apprehended at the Mexican border. Just a few years ago an average of up to 7,000 children were apprehended by American Homeland Security, he told the 2014 National Migration Conference in Washington. This year that number has reached 52,000 children.

While reading such statistics is mindboggling, learning the background to this mass migration is stomach-churning. “There is rape, human trafficking, a lot of abuse and a lot of them are sick,” Negash said. He is personally responsible for health care decisions for these 50,000 children, including how to treat an 11-year-old girl who’s pregnant, and another pregnant teen who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and president of Caritas Internationalis, the church’s global relief agency, told the conference that gang violence is a major problem in Central American countries. It is fed largely by widespread poverty and lack of job opportunities. “The children and young people of these countries need to escape the violence in the hope of finding a safe place, an education, a home, a job — even though on the migrant journey they risk violence and abuse, being trafficked and sometimes death.”

Organized gangs and drug cartels kill with impunity. Children are killed for coming from the wrong gang-controlled neighbourhoods. Children are pressured to join drug cartels or criminal gangs under threat of themselves being killed. They are recruited to kill; $500 is enough to take a life.

This week’s PM tells the story of Giovani Melendez, 31, who fled El Salvador after gangs demanded growing extortion payments he was unable to afford. An auto painter by profession, Melendez was doing well at his livelihood, “but (the gangs) wouldn’t let me work.” He fled the country with his family, but he only made it to the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, where officials stopped them and sent them back to El Salvador.

Other horror stories include gang extortion and threats, children hiding at home because gangs threatened them at school and a woman who had gangsters demand she hand over her two daughters — to be their girlfriends.

These are some of the details behind the continuing debate in the United States about immigration. The church has been an aggressive proponent of allowing more immigrants into the country to escape violence at home, and to have some hope for the future for their children.

Meanwhile, as Canadians enjoy a more leisurely lifestyle during the summer holidays, we are aware that this is a privilege denied to many people elsewhere. Yes, “We don’t have it as bad as other places.”

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