From the massive migration of an estimated 70,000 unaccompanied children to the U.S. border this past summer to President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform, issues facing Central America have entered the national spotlight here in the US. The underlying internal displacement trends within Central America have not received as much attention, but are perhaps even more important as they reveal a frightening relationship between gang violence and forced migration within Central America.
This month, the Philippines is marking the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall. The international response to the typhoon was immediate and robust – essential given the reality that over four million people were displaced by the storm.
But this week, I am in the Philippines to mark the one-year anniversary of another humanitarian crisis – one that is coming without fanfare.
Five months ago, I visited a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) near Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The people living there first arrived in 2012 and 2013, having fled from armed groups who destroyed villages and killed civilians. As the chaos continued back at home, many IDPs had no choice but to remain in the camps. But the longer they stayed, the less aid they received from the United Nations and other organizations.
When I met Amir two years ago in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, he had just graduated with a degree in Physics from Sittwe University. He was a fluent English speaker and planned to pursue a career as an engineer. Amir lived in Aung Mingalar, the only neighborhood in the capital city of Sittwe where the Rohingya still maintained a residence after 140,000 had been driven out of the city by mobs assisted by the police.
#BringBackOurGirls. This slogan has been trending since April, when the Islamic Jihadist terrorist organization Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 girls from their school in Borno State, Nigeria. Countless celebrities around the world – including U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama – have lent their voices to the social media campaign. But three months later, “our girls” have not been brought back. Although reports say approximately 50 have managed to escape, 276 girls are still missing.
More than 90,000 unaccompanied children are expected to arrive at the U.S. border this year. More than 20,000 of them will be of Mexican origin, but because they are being summarily turned around at the border little is known about their decision to undertake the journey alone, or the circumstances under which they traveled.
When my colleague, Garrett Bradford, and I met Pablo and Ana in Mexico City they had been displaced from their home, lost their fifteen-year-old son and son-in-law to an ambush by organized crime, and were still searching for their seventeen-year-old son, Juan, who had been kidnapped two months before. They are two of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who have been displaced by organized crime and other armed actors in the last few years.
“There was war in my home. The Mai Mai came to our village and burned everything there. I came here with my wife and eight children two months ago with nothing but the clothes on our backs. I came to this village to try to get some food.” These are the words of Emmanuel, an internally displaced man in northern Katanga Province. “Look,” he said, pointing to a makeshift house of branches and leaves. “We have no shelter, and no food.”
In November 2012, the city of Goma, capital of North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was on high alert. The notorious M23 rebel group had just taken over, pushing out the Congolese armed forces and rolling past the bases of United Nations peacekeepers.