Refugees in the Americas?

As we reflect on World Refugee Day, we at TRF would like to recognize the UNHCR and their accomplishments with supporting people in vulnerable and complex circumstances. The 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion…” leaves his or her country. Since then, this definition has allowed multilateral, government and nonprofit organizations to protect people at risk throughout the globe.

In the context of the Americas, the word “refugees” conjures a range of images, usually stemming from waves of political violence or repression: the 60’s in Cuba, mid-70’s through the 80’s in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, and the 90’s in Haiti and Colombia.

While these waves fit rather well into the original definition of refugee, some recent trends in our hemisphere have brought into question the delimitations of the 1951 language.  Here are three examples:

Following the 2014 immigration crisis -the surge in unaccompanied children from Central America seeking entrance to the United States- many began to ask, “If the general level of violence and extortion in Central America has reached degrees that lead parents to send their children to illegally cross multiple borders, should those minors qualify as refugees?” The decades-long conflict in Colombia has produced 6 million Internally Displaced People in Colombia (UNHCR estimate as of July 2014). Just this week, the Dominican Republic has pledged to “repatriate” potentially hundreds of thousands of individuals -mostly presumed to be of Haitian descent- that a 2013 ruling essentially rendered stateless.

These situations all have very complex causes and consequences.  If you want to support efforts addressing some of these issues, such as housing, training or education in Colombia, Central America or Hispaniola (the Haitian-Dominican island), feel free to contact us to explore local partners like Servivienda, Interactuar, or MUDE.

By Gian Paolo Einaudi, TRF Director of Social Investments