From the Northern Triangle to Catalonia: Forced migration, violence and the right to asylum

From the Northern Triangle to Catalonia: Forced migration, violence and the right to asylum

Mon, 25/11/2019 - 16:59


Training. The Europa Sense Murs association offers a training session explaining the context of violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America, a cause of forced migration going back over twenty years.

Violent conflict has been a constant in recent decades in the Northern Triangle of Central America, a region consisting of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. There has scarcely been any let-up in the violence and the three countries have the highest rates of murder and violence in the world for countries not at war. Nearly 5,000 people from the Northern Triangle requested international protection in Spain in 2018. On top of this, others have had to flee the violence but have not requested asylum as they don’t have the right to. According to Europa Sense Murs, understanding the contexts and origins of the wars and the current violence of the criminal armed gangs known as ‘maras’ is essential for institutions which deal with refugees and migrants from this zone in one capacity or another.

“Understanding the contexts and delving into the root causes that have driven so many people, since the seventies and eighties, to move away and leave everything behind them, is essential if we really want to look after the process here”, explains Gaby Poblet, an anthropologist specialising in international migration and founder and director of Europa Sense Murs. Because of this, the entity started organising a series of training sessions and seminars for public-sector professionals, refuge specialists, organisations, journalists and people of any profile relevant to migrants originating from the region. The seminar ‘From the Northern Triangle to Catalonia: Forced migration, violence and the right to asylum’ covers the economic and social history of the three countries making up the Northern Triangle. The session also draws on Poblet’s knowledge and experience in relation with people from the region, mainly women in domestic work.

The Central American oligarchy, before worrying about their own countries, spent more than a century demanding tithes from them

The economic thread behind the conflicts

“Banana multinationals have undoubtedly been the base for Central America’s conflicts for over a century”, insists Poblet. The United Fruit Company was the first multinational to appropriate thousands of hectares of land in exchange for building a railway. A very small oligarchy was consolidated which still owns and dominates companies and land. Before worrying about their own countries, they spent more than a century demanding tithes from them. Years later, in the shadow of the cold war, which manifested itself as hot wars in Central America, this oligarchy was the hidden hand behind coups, funding for paramilitary forces, arms and drugs trafficking. Small countries with a hugely valuable agricultural and mining industry have ended up being dragged down by them.

“Young deportees from the US emulated the street gang model”

A continuous loop of conflict: eighties migration, the origin of today’s

Internal and interconnecting wars in the 1980s were the cause of forced migration of the Central American population towards the USA. In all, we’re talking about over two million displaced people. The application of restrictive immigration policies, the non-recognition of the right to asylum and the practical non-existence of integration programmes meant in particular the young people from El Salvador started joining the most established gangs in the country, such as the Mexican gang Barrio 18. “The creation of the Mara Salvatrucha 13, mainly made up of young people from El Salvador, wasn’t long in coming. But the US government started prompting actions which have been repeated over the years, deporting gang members to their countries of origin”, explains Poblet. This authentic exportation of maras was an added factor to political instability in Central American countries, bringing violence that pushes population flows away. The young deportees emulated the street gang model.

First-hand accounts

Diego and Romy had to flee because of the violence and threats of the maras. Diego, 23, saw most of his friends die as teenagers and young people. Living and studying meant having to cross a red zone (disputed territory between two rival gangs) so he also received threats, until one day he decided to emigrate. Now he is in Barcelona, where he has applied for international protection. Romy, an engineer by profession, tells us a similar story. She was the owner of an internet cafe and became the focus for extortion and threats. She decided to leave when it became impossible to avoid the collaboration that the street gangs were pressuring her for.

Many are unaware that the violence in their country of origin is one reason that gives them the right to request asylum

Knowledge to interpret needs

“Getting closer to these contexts gives us a better grasp of the process for migrants here”, notes Poblet. She gives the example of women from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala who have come in different waves (and incidentally are those who clean our homes and look after our elderly) and who don’t often ask for international protection. Many are unaware that the violence in their country of origin is one reason that gives them the right to request asylum.

Sometimes the concepts that circulate in the different stages of arrival have to be put into context and broadened. For instance, the corruption sometimes associated with a migratory trend is oversimplified. When the term is used, what it is really describing is a lack of state, of welfare policies and even a lack of security, particularly in Honduras, a country which is completely awry. There’s a lot more behind the word: a life spent among daily deaths and constant fear and a complete mistrust of institutions. The situation needs to be properly understood to be able to interpret the needs of refuges and to help them overcome the violence they have experienced. This is their process of repair and the cure for their daily life here.

Breaking down walls

Europa Sense Murs is dedicated to applied research, training, making a difference and raising awareness to improve public policies in the field of international migration, gender, childhood and youth. According to Gaby Poblet, training sessions such as this one, funded by Barcelona City Council’s ‘Barcelona, Refuge City’ plan, are very necessary. Fighting for full citizen rights for all migrants requires an understanding of the complexity of forced displacement, migration processes and the different contexts of origin.