EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – As a new, 5,000-strong migrant caravan sets north from the Mexico-Guatemala border this week, a new study shows the desire to leave their countries remains strong among residents of Central America.
At least one in five residents of the region want to permanently leave countries where economic opportunities are limited and crime and corruption are high, the survey distributed this week by the World Justice Project found.
The poll shows that almost half of Hondurans (49 percent) want to move to another country and 18 percent plan to do so within the next year. The urgency to migrate is almost as high in El Salvador, with 39 percent contemplating moving in the future and 9 percent ready to do so this year. In Guatemala, 29 percent of the population indicated a desire to move elsewhere, and 7 percent said they already were making plans to go.
The three nations that make up the so-called Northern Triangle have a combined population of 36 million.
“It’s really striking to see how many of them are unhappy with issues like corruption and policing, not feeling safe in their own neighborhoods, walking around or riding the bus,” said Ted Piconne, chief engagement officer at the Washington, D.C.-based World Justice Project.
The survey compiled in late 2021 shows that one in five Northern Triangle residents were victims of crime in the past year and that seven out of 10 do not feel safe using public transportation.
“Many are afraid of being victimized. There are more and more people who say, ‘I just don’t want to live here anymore,’” Piconne said. “When you look at population groups more likely to leave it is younger people, people who have less education, less economic opportunities and resources, and people who already tried to go to the United States and didn’t make it or were sent back. This tells us people don’t see a future in their own country.”
Economics and the breakdown of the rule of law (crime and corruption) appear to be the two major “push” factors in the region. In countries like Belize, 24 percent of the people reported having to pay a bribe to get their children enrolled in public schools or to obtain a birth certificate or government-issued ID.
In Honduras, the desire to migrate internationally is strongest among city dwellers. Fifty-eight percent of the residents of Tegucigalpa, 59 percent of those who live in La Ceiba and 53 percent of the inhabitants of San Pedro Sula want to move to another country.
WJP officials said the findings demonstrate the need for hemispheric leaders – such as those gathered this week at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles – to address the root causes of population displacement, or migration.
“It’s not just a matter of building higher fences and walls. You have to get to what is driving the migration from these countries. This survey data shows clearly that (Central American) governments, with the support of the United States, need to do much more to give people economic and educational opportunity, but also basic public safety. That, over time, should reduce the pressure to migrate,” Piconne said. “But as long as those problems don’t improve but get worse, you are going to see people leaving and looking for better opportunities elsewhere.”