Why people migrate and how Canada is trying to help

The news this year has been filled with stories about the plight of migrants fleeing their homes in search of safety and a better life. Whether it’s Europe or the Americas, the migrant crisis is at the forefront of media and government policy. Recently, we’ve seen caravans of migrants, mainly women and children, embarking on dangerous journeys where they face discrimination, hostility and aggression. These families – fleeing out of desperation – all dream of reaching a better place. However, when they finally reach this “better place”, often, those dreams are shattered. Most notably in the United States, where we have seen much hostility toward migrants. There are children who were separated from their parents, who until today, have not been reunited with their families.

So why, knowing the harrowing journey and grueling experiences ahead of them, would anyone sign up for such an ordeal and decide to pack up their life and move? Let’s use Honduras as an example of why people migrate.

The situation in Honduras is undoubtedly a crisis. In many communities, gangs and illicit groups have taken control of every dimension of life. The level of violence is far beyond what we could conceivably understand: public murders, assault, persecutions, corruption, and extortion. More recently, community leaders, who are positive allies for enforcing change, have been targeted and threatened. They were one of the strongest remaining hopes of bringing progress and stability to the communities.

For many boys and girls in these broken communities, the future is bleak. There’s nowhere they can safely turn. For girls specifically, as soon as puberty arrives, the risk of sexual abuse and exploitation increases. One way for many girls to “escape” poverty or “gain respect” in the gangs, is to become the sexual partner of a gang member. In order to grow in “rank”, these girls will aim to ultimately become the sexual partner of the gang leader(s). To get this “promotion”, the girl will have spent countless days and months being the sexual slave of the entire gang, to prove herself worthy. So beyond being an immediate target for mere association with the gang (by rivals and police), her body will, as well, be at the complete disposal of gang members.

An additional layer of threat for young girls in Honduras, is the possibility of adolescent pregnancy, which poses health threats and worsens economic and educational opportunities.

For boys, the pressure to join a gang is almost immediate. Children are used by gangs to take on high-risk activities: from look-out guards to delivery runners. One very common initiation method for these children is a mandatory killing of someone selected by gang “management”; it’s kill or be killed for these boys. And once they pass this “initiation”, they live a life in permanent danger.

For the few who do manage to escape the aggressive gang-recruitment tactics, job and training opportunities are grim. The public education system in Honduras is weak and does not have the necessary resources to ensure that children are supported in their full development. Vocational training opportunities are also very limited in these neighborhoods.

When young people try to leave to pursue a career elsewhere, they face barriers because of stigma around their community of origin. Companies are fearful of hiring violent youth, or becoming a target of the gangs themselves.

So when we look at the limited choices these young people have, one must question what’s not to migrate away from? Why wouldn’t you choose a path to “anywhere but here”?

But migration is not a permanent solution. The root causes listed here need to be addressed

Save the Children is in Honduras, working to address particularly, unaccompanied child migration. Our two-year project, called CREO (Spanish for “I believe”), aims to prevent child and adolescent unaccompanied migration from two of the poorest and most violent neighbourhoods. CREO will directly support over 1,400 adolescents and nearly 600 parents, teachers and community leaders. Ultimately, the program will actually impact over 12,000 people in these two communities.

The project is working to strengthen key protective factors such as positive and gender-equitable relationships, child protection mechanisms, and access to decent economic opportunities through vocational training.

By strengthening these factors, the ultimate goal of this pilot project is to prevent girls and boys from risking their lives in a dangerous migration journey.

By Olivia Lecoufle, Child Protection Advisor at Save the Children Canada