The Central American Refugee Crisis as Seen in Central America

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

It is all over the U.S. news—tens of thousands of children from the three Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala arriving daily in the United States, and American lawmakers trying to figure out what to do with them. At the same time we hear from both sides of the immigration debate about what to do with these refugees. What we do not hear about is how the fleeing refugees are impacting four other Central American countries just as much being caught up in this crisis—Nicaragua, Belize, Panama and Costa Rica. In the case of Nicaragua, many Nicaraguans have sympathy for the plight of the children coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Yet many Nicaraguan officials do not want to take in the refugees. With the Nicaraguan government barely able to take care of its own population, how can it find any room for the thousands of Guatemalan, Salvadoran and Honduran refugees streaming across Nicaragua’s border?

Belize has great suspicions of its neighbor Guatemala. For decades, Guatemala had always claimed Belize as its own territory, and this suspicion between the two remains. Guatemalan refugees have been streaming through Belize’s border, and Belize has seen a 700 percent increase in asylum requests from those Guatemalans fleeing the gang wars taking place. Back in the 1980’s, Belize took in some refugees from Guatemala during Guatemala’s civil war, but most Belize residents are reluctant to take in refugees at present. In the case of Panama, most Panamanians are unlikely to welcome the Central American refugees at all. For decades, Panama had been the focal point of refugees fleeing from neighboring Colombia. Colombian refugees by and large had been badly mistreated and unwanted. Also, Panama’s asylum system is a bureaucratic morass and most refugees from Central America will most likely never be granted asylum. It is unlikely that Panamanians will want the refugees from Central America either.

Costa Rica, like Nicaragua, has sympathy for the Central American refugees. Like Nicaragua, it has seen a dramatic jump in the number of asylum seekers from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The question is whether Costa Rica can handle such an influx of refugees. Unlike the United States or Mexico, Costa Rica does not have the resources to handle this grave a refugee crisis. All of the countries in Central America being affected by this refugee crisis are at a loss as to what to do, and clearly they do not have a coordinated plan in place. For all of Central America, this is the biggest crisis since the 1980’s when civil wars raged in El Salvador and Guatemala and there was social instability in Honduras. Like the United States and Mexico, this crisis will not be solved by any one solution or by any one country. It will take all of the countries in Central America, as well as with the United States and Mexico, to try and find long-term solutions to a crisis that had been in the brewing for years.

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