Central American religious leaders, human rights activists and ombudsmen met in San Salvador this week to develop a regional solution to the refugee crisis in the Northern Triangle: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Foundation Cristosal, a San-Salvador based human rights organization affiliated with the Episcopalian church, invited Episcopalian leaders, nonprofit organizations and ombudsmen from seven countries to promote collaboration across the region when addressing human rights issues and migration.
Bishop Hector Monterroso of the Episcopalian Church in Costa Rica greeted event participants on Monday morning with remarks encouraging solidarity between the region.
“We can’t close our eyes.”
“The church should be part of the solution that exists in this community,” Monterrosa said to a crowd of journalists, human rights activists and government officials in the Hotel Real Continental in San Salvador. “This is part of our work and challenge. We can’t close our eyes.”
Men, women and children are fleeing the Northern Triangle in record numbers because of increased violence and persisting conditions of social inequality. The event participants convened to work together to protect these migrants against human rights abuses and build longterm solutions.
More than 50,000 unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were apprehended at the U.S. southern border in 2014, sparking a migrant crisis and media frenzy in the U.S. Since then, Mexico has increased deportations of Central Americans, likely because of pressure from their northern neighbor. Recently, the LA Times reported another spike in border crossings from Central Americans into the U.S.
These refugees are also looking south to their neighbors in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama for haven. At the conference, which included representatives from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, attendees discussed how each country could provide resources for immediate aid and promote longterm solutions.
While Central America is a small region, each country often focuses on the differences between them, according to Monterroso. He encouraged regional leaders to put aside these differences. Recently Costa Rica and Nicaragua had a border dispute over Cubans passing through on their way to the U.S.
In Central America, religious leaders have historically stepped in to fill in the gaps where governments have failed to protect their citizens. Archbishop Oscar Romero voraciously fought against injustice in El Salvador before his assassination in 1980.
Pope Francis, the son of Italian immigrants in Argentina, has also spoken out in support of migrants in his recent visit to the U.S.
“Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared,” he said during his visit. “So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.”
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