On Tear Gas and Refugees

Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The scenes this week of tear gas fired at migrant children and families are evidence of a failure to manage the protection crisis stemming from the Northern Triangle of Central American (NCTA). Meeting families who bet their lives and well being on walking thousands of miles with rubber bullets, tear gas and barbed wire are not signs of strength and security, but rather of mismanagement and policy failure in the face of crisis.

 The early signs of this crisis came four years ago when then U.S. President Barack Obama declared a humanitarian situation on the U.S. southern border involving tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children, the majority fleeing violence.  Having personally participated in many regional and international consultations to build improved displacement responses, I watch with great sadness that the protection options for displaced people in NTCA have been reduced to caravans and refugee camps in Tijuana when so many thoughtful alternatives have been on the table in recent years. 

 Jingoistic rhetoric and harsh treatment of migrants and asylum seekers have not deterred our neighbors from seeking a place on earth to live free from fear and want. Conversely, the criminalization of migration and asylum seeking by destination countries has not generated any real benefit in host societies; rather, it has generated divisiveness and weakened regional cooperation for a stabilizing humanitarian and protection response.

 Militarization of citizen security in Central America has failed to produce peace and has instead weakened fragile democratic institutions and eroded citizen confidence. At the same time state security forces have increasingly been implicated in acts of violence and human rights violations in all three Northern Triangle countries, further exacerbating the crisis of forced displacement.

 El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have consistently posted rates of violent death that compare to armed conflicts elsewhere in the world. Despite extreme rates of violence, the Northern Triangle countries have little to no capacity to protect victims of violent crime and atrocities. What is needed is a sustained and long-term commitment to combat corruption, strengthen democratic institutions and build lasting peace in NTCA. In the meantime, Central and North American countries must commit to humanitarian relief for those fleeing for their lives.

 In this crisis, as in so many in the world today, it is urgent for the United States to reclaim its global leadership in upholding human rights standards in the world. When the United States waivers in its leadership, its ability to apply international leverage to protect refugees, defend human rights and end conflict dissipates in the void, giving way to authoritarianism and aggressive nationalism that put global peace and security at risk.


 Noah F. Bullock

Executive Director


E:  director@cristosal.org


An end note: Cristosal directly addresses the root causes of this displacement every day. As this year comes to an end, please know that your investment in our work is of particular importance at this unique moment. I deeply appreciate every contribution and ask you to continue to accompany Cristosal in this work.  www.cristosal.org

Jorge Medrano