Child Poverty in China
‘Ice boy’ brought pity and awe when he first appeared in a viral photo back in January 2018 with his hair completely frozen and his cheeks intensely red, having walked an hour to school in freezing temperatures. The viral photo was just a glimpse into child poverty in China, a major ongoing issue. Wang Fuman, then 8, lived in extreme poverty with his sister, father, uncle and grandmother in the Yunnan province for his entire life. One can see an inside look at their dilapidated hut in an interview with the South China Morning Post, showing barely any furniture, a leaking rook during precipitation and limited supplies of food.

Where Fuman is Today

Fuman, now 10, is currently living in a new home thanks to the efforts of foreigners sending cash donations, heating items and much-needed supplies to the struggling family. One particular family involved in this effort is his new American friends from California. Carolyn Miller and her family took action to help the family after hearing about its news. They have since frequently connected with Fuman and his family through phone calls and belated birthday presents, promoting cross-cultural relations and understanding in the process.

However, the inevitable truth still remains: there are 96 million more ‘Ice Boys,’ girls and adults living in poverty in China according to the UNICEF PPP $3.20 data, and most of them lie in the western half.

Child Poverty in Eastern Versus Western China

The eastern half is where the vast majority of people reside as it bears more habitable conditions. The western half juxtaposes this as its population is scattered throughout the many inhospitable mountains and desert areas. This results in the majority of child poverty in China being located in the western half while the eastern half is home to financial hubs like Shanghai, Shengzhen and Guangzhou.

Mass Migration

For people like Fuman who live in the Yunnan Province and for the other people who live in remote areas in provinces of the western half, a lack of opportunity causes mass migration from small villages where former rural villagers come into cities in droves. Many of these remote, small villages end up losing millions of people, leaving the villages as shells of their former selves. According to CNBC, in 2000, China had 3.7 million villages based on research by Tianjin University. That number dropped to 2.6 million, a loss of about 300 villages a day, by 2010. Usually, only one to three families remain in these small villages. In some cases, the villages become completely deserted. This leaves the villages with immense labor deficits, which impacts those without the means to migrate, just like in Fuman’s case. These villages that once comprised of numerous jobs like teachers, construction workers, retail workers and others are all gone, leaving those who stayed behind to resort to subsistence farming as their only means of survival. This is why children like Fuman have to travel long distances and often in harsh, icy cold conditions just to go to school, which was what sparked Fuman’s ‘Ice Boy’ viral photo in the first place.

Despite these facts, Fuman and others remain optimistic about the steady progress that is occurring. People like Miller and her family do a great service to make life easier for families like Fuman’s. Raising awareness is integral to extending help to more people like Fuman, as it brings an increase in attention for child poverty in China. People are noticing more and more children in extreme poverty through similar viral posts and videos, attracting an increase in donations and aid for children in those circumstances. Fuman’s story shows that simply donating cash relief aid and basic supplies can indeed make the difference for child poverty in China.

– Justin Chan
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Camps in Greece
Over the past five years, Greece has struggled to accommodate the thousands of migrants arriving on its borders. Since the beginning of the migration crisis in 2015, over one million migrants have arrived in Greece in order to seek asylum in the European Union (EU). While many have traveled onward to stay in other European countries, large numbers have remained in migrant camps in Greece. The nation has struggled under this pressure.

Greece’s location makes it a prime port of entry for incoming migrants. However, the country has recently been accused of refusing to accommodate refugees due to overcrowded migrant camps. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this situation, as Greece has struggled to maintain a high standard of sanitation and healthcare within migrant camps. The EU and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are working to improve the situation and support Greece.

Who Are the Newest Migrants?

The refugees currently arriving to migrant camps in Greece originate from countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Palestine and Syria. Fleeing war-torn countries, oppressive regimes and extreme poverty, they travel through Turkey and Northern Africa, risking their lives to seek asylum in Europe. Greece has become a hotspot for arrivals since the start of the migration crisis. The nation acts as a European port of entry due to its geographic location near Africa and Turkey.

Turkey also worsened the situation by announcing in March 2020 that Europe is open for asylum seekers and urging migrants to travel to Greece. These declarations came in response to the EU not providing funding for Turkey’s own refugee arrivals. In response to Turkey’s statements, Greece declared that it would not accept illegal immigrants and vowed that it would protect Europe’s external borders. However, Turkey does not qualify as a safe third country and therefore, according to EU law, Greece should not return migrants to Turkey. This situation has increased pressure on Greece to accept and support increasing numbers of migrants. No new deal between Turkey and the EU has been reached yet.

Greece’s Actions

In August 2020, Greece was accused of refusing over 1,000 asylum seekers that arrived from Turkey by sea, turning them away in rafts. Pushbacks at land borders and police brutality have also been reported in the last year. These actions go against the EU’s laws regarding respect for human rights. It also goes against the obligation to not return asylum seekers to dangerous environments. The Greek government denies these allegations, suggesting that Turkey is responsible for conducting a misinformation campaign to diminish Greece’s credibility.

However, credible footage and interviewed victims have recently added to the mounting evidence that Greece is not upholding the standard of human rights required by the EU. To ensure the protection of human rights and those of asylum seekers, the UNHCR is currently investigating reports of Greece’s abandonment of migrants. The organization is also supporting migrants’ rights within migrant camps in Greece.

Migrant Camps and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions of the thousands of migrants currently located in migrant camps in Greece, on both the mainland and the islands. Greece’s measures have generally been beneficial in controlling the spread of the virus; however, the migrant camps lack specialized sanitation and healthcare and have become increasingly overcrowded since arrivals spiked in early 2020. These circumstances contribute to an environment that is particularly susceptible to the spread of COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, the Greek government has tightened restrictions on the movement of migrants in camps. Major outbreaks within the camps have been prevented, but some camps, like those in Moria and Lesbos, have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and imposed strict lockdown measures to avoid spreading the virus. The camps are also routinely providing thorough health checks. Furthermore, in an effort to address the overcrowding of migrant camps, officials have been relocating migrants to hotels or apartments, which sometimes reduces the availability of public services.

In Search of Solutions

Greece’s migrant crisis has continued since 2015 and has recently been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, tensions with Turkey and an increase in asylum seekers. Despite the country’s best efforts to control the situation, migrant camps in Greece are under extreme pressure.

In September 2020, UNHCR officials visited Greece to assess the situation and create a plan to help Greece cope, focusing especially on accommodation and the COVID-19 response within migrant camps. The UNHCR is now working with Greek authorities to implement accommodation transitions and cash-based assistance programs. It is also calling upon the EU and its member states to increase their support for Greece through financial assistance and the relocation of asylum-seekers.

Through these measures, Greece’s new and current migrants are receiving support until the EU can provide increased assistance. Solving the migrant crisis in the long-term, however, will require coordinated efforts between the EU, surrounding nations and humanitarian organizations.

Angelica Smyrnios
Photo: Flickr

Seasonal Hunger in Bangladesh
Seasonal hunger is a period of food scarcity characterized by starvation. It occurs between harvest seasons when food prices are high, jobs are in short supply and the previous year’s food stocks have gone down. Seasonal hunger impacts 300 million of the world’s rural poor. A common misconception about malnutrition is that conflict and natural disasters are its most significant driving forces. However, chronic seasonal hunger is the most common cause of undernourishment and malnutrition. Some even call seasonal hunger the “father of famine.”

Seasonal Hunger in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, a small Southasian country bordering India and Myanmar, seasonal hunger afflicts a large portion of the rural population, especially those living in the northwest region of Rangpur. During the annual seasonal famine, incomes decrease by 50-60% and spending on food drops by 10-25%. About 15.4 million people live in Rangpur. Approximately 13.6 million of these people live in areas where during the yearly pre-harvest season, there is a decline in labor demand and wages causing households that do not own land to regularly skip meals. This is especially problematic for children with poor nutrition. Even if only for a short time, it can restrict physical and mental development in the long run.

Storm Surges

Due to its geographically low elevation and the high tendency for watercourses, Bangladesh is exceptionally susceptible to natural disasters. Around 30 to 50% of the country experienced severe climate shocks each year. Also, cyclones in the country account for 70% of all storm surges in the world. Rural Bangladesh faces the worst of these storm surges, and it devastates the entire harvests. Thus, it contributes to food insecurity in the nation.

Seasonal Migration

To mitigate the effects of seasonal hunger, the Bangladesh government has implemented food or cash-for-work programs. In the meantime, NGOs have attempted to amplify employment opportunities through credit, job training and marketing initiatives. However, rather than enforcing consumption-smoothing initiatives, there is a need for the more long term and sustainable solutions to meet the needs of the Bangladeshi people better.

Seasonal hunger comes and hits the majority-rural areas of Bangladesh. Simultaneously, low-skill labor opportunities become available in other regions of the country. Seasonal migration for these jobs, which generally entails leaving farms to move to more lucrative cities, is a common practice. It is a practice that the rural poor in Bangladesh use to provide for their families so they can eat regularly.

However, some people choose to stay behind and risk starvation, indicating that there are hurdles to overcome for migration. Many of these people have a desire to remain with the family, financial constraints or a lack of information about job opportunities. Moreover, a research study investigated whether providing low-cost incentives, namely cash, credit and information for seasonal migration, effectively helps people overcome these hurdles. The study found that households with an incentive to migrate were more likely to do so during the hungry season over families that were not. Also, migrant families did have considerably better food security.

Moving Forward

While seasonal migration is a solution many families use to avoid seasonal hunger, this does not solve any of the root causes of hunger in Bangladesh. In addition to continuing to provide financial incentives to migrating, the government must also address poverty and hunger. Moving forward, there must be an increase in employment opportunities in rural areas, allowing families to support themselves without migrating.

Sarah Uddin
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Crisis
The migrant crisis in Italy is prevalent; Italy receives more asylum seekers per year than any other European country. Since 2017, over 192,000 individuals have sought refuge in Italy by crossing the Mediterranean in informal vessels and ships organized and manned by non-governmental organizations. Many migrants who make the perilous journey from the coast of North Africa to Italy land at the small island of Lampedusa, the southernmost area of Italian territory, located just 70 miles from the coast of Tunisia.

At the peak of the crisis, hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghanis and Libyans crossed into Europe to seek asylum. However, Italy’s strategic location near the coasts of Tunisia and Libya led to a continuous increase in attempted landings. These two locations are common debarkation points for Middle Eastern and North African migrants. According to Reuters, from August 2019 to July 2020, over 21,000 individuals successfully reached Italy’s southern shores. These figures represent an increase of 148% from the previous year.

Additionally, E.U. regulations regarding the resettlement of asylum seekers place high financial and administrative burdens on Italy. The 1990 Dublin Regulation is a law for E.U. member states which forces migrants coming to the European Union to make their application for asylum in the first country where they arrived. This legislation disproportionately affected the Italian government in comparison with its northern European neighbors.

Migrants and the 2018 Elections

The E.U.’s perceived ambivalence towards Italy’s economic burden and the peak of the European migrant crisis in 2017 created tension. These factors created a perfect storm for the victory of right-wing political leader Matteo Salvini and his Lega party. Salvini’s message on the campaign trail, that of blocking migrant arrivals in Italy and a renegotiation of ties to the European government in Brussels, struck a tone with many dissatisfied Italian voters in the north of the country where anti-immigrant sentiments remain common.

As minister of the interior, Salvini fulfilled his electoral promise, continuing his hardline position regarding the migrant crisis in Italy. During his tenure, the Lega leader utilized Italy’s military vessels to prevent ships carrying migrants from docking in the country’s ports and cut off funding for social programs that provide vital assistance and resources for newly arrived asylum seekers.

Looking Forward

The Lega-led government collapsed in 2019. The liberal government that succeeded it altered the dynamics of the Italian government’s role in the migrant crisis. Salvini heavily criticized the E.U. government for its laissez-faire approach to Italy’s economic and organizational woes during the migrant crisis. In contrast, the current Italian government is much more open to collaboration with Brussels. An agreement reached at the end of 2019 between Italy, Germany and France allowed for the relocation of migrants rescued at sea throughout the E.U., thus moving away from the controversial Dublin Regulation.

Even under the new liberal government in Rome, deportations of recently arrived migrants have continued into the present. However, the current national policy regarding asylum seekers differs from the issue’s handling under Salvini; instead of directly blocking migrant vessels and NGOs from docking in Italian ports, the government is directly lobbying with Tunisia to incentivize the North African country to control illegal migration from its borders by threatening cuts to development aid.

The economic and social catastrophe of the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the new Tunisian policy and continued deportations. The country faced an administrative breakdown during the spring and found a need to centralize government resources towards the virus. These factors led to the closure of numerous refugee facilities in southern Italy. Furthermore, the new liberal government had, for the first time, deployed military ships to stop migrants from Tunisia in order to maintain Italy’s national quarantine.

Although the country has policies in place to ensure all incoming asylum seekers are quarantined before entry, the fear of new cases being brought into the country as well as additional stress on an already damaged economy may lead to increased support for Salvini’s policies in the future.

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

One important organization lobbying for the rights of migrants seeking refuge in Italy and the E.U. is the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC primarily assists in the safe movement of asylum seekers. It organizes funding for secure ships and professional sailors to transport migrants across the Mediterranean. Furthermore, the IRC was instrumental in the development of Refugee.Info. This online site serves as an informational tool on how to apply for asylum. It also details statistics regarding the issue of migrants in Italy. Lastly, the IRC provides mental and physical health services for newly arrived migrants in the collection facilities in southern Italy. Though COVID-19 has posed many challenges to the migrant crisis in Italy, there are organizations making a difference.

Jason Beck
Photo: Wikimedia

refugee storiesOf the world’s population, 79.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. There are currently about 26 million refugees worldwide. Many of these individuals have been forced to flee their homes, experiencing extreme difficulty and hardship. At the peak of the 2015 European refugee crisis, headlines surrounding refugees’ stories of fleeing their home countries saturated the news. Combined with sobering photographs, these refugee stories provided the world with a glimpse into the realities of what thousands of individuals and families were experiencing and enduring. As the years have passed, this coverage has diminished, but thousands of refugees continue to flee their homes to find asylum elsewhere.

Refugee Stories in the News

One World Media, an organization supporting independent media coverage on circumstances in developing countries, advocates for continued media coverage of the European Refugee Crisis. To do so, it launched the Refugee Reporting Award. In partnership with the British Red Cross, the award encourages accurate and empathetic coverage of the state of the continuous refugee crisis.

The Executive Director of Communications and Advocacy at British Red Cross, Zoë Abrams, expounds on the importance of telling refugee stories. She explains that these stories are key to breaking down misconceptions and bias surrounding refugees and migrants. Abrams further states that “the relative trickle of stories nowadays means it is easy to wrongly assume that the situation for people on the move has dramatically improved.” This, however, is far from true, as issues regarding migration have increased across the globe.

How We Tell Refugee Stories

Although it is important to compile and share refugee stories, the manner in which individuals and their stories are portrayed should be carefully considered. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) advises readers not to focus on refugees’ pasts, but to consider what individuals can accomplish despite what they have experienced.

The UNHCR shared the story of Shahm Maskoun, a Syrian refugee now living in France. He was finding great success in his life in Syria, but then war broke out and he was forced to flee, leaving everything behind. When Maskoun arrived in France, he had nothing and was very lonely. However, taking advantage of the support offered to refugees and migrants, he received some financial and health support. He eventually enrolled in a master’s program and then began giving back, assisting students in his classes and using his skills in internships. Reflecting on his own experiences, Maskoun says that he wants people to understand that refugees themselves aren’t the crisis, but the manner in which the media tells their stories can be problematic, insinuating they are defined by the hardships they have experienced.

The Importance of Refugee Stories

All types of refugee stories, including those highlighting the difficulties that individuals experienced while fleeing their homes and those describing the success found by refugees in other countries, have their place. A recent study shows that children need to hear refugee stories because it makes them more compassionate and empathetic, especially if refugee children are living in their communities and attending their schools.

Testing three groups of children, the results illustrated the connection between empathy and a willingness to help others. In this case, hearing the stories and experiences of the refugee children who would be joining their school class made children act accordingly with kindness and mindfulness toward their new classmates.

Compiling and telling refugee stories can be a useful tool in educating and informing the public about the state of the refugee crisis. As these stories foster empathy, it is likely that communities will remember refugees and seek to help provide them with relief and safety.

– Kalicia Bateman
Photo: Flickr

How Migrant Workers Have Been Impacted By COVID-19Over the past several months, there have been many media stories about how the ongoing pandemic has impacted the American economy, as well as many others around the world. Any reader is likely aware of how harmful the crisis has been to many working- and middle-class people in America. One group that has not received as much attention, however, are migrant workers. Not only have migrant workers been made more vulnerable than usual in the current climate, but their struggles have also intersected with poverty on a global scale.

Migrant Workers During COVID-19

What makes this situation an international crisis rather than a solely American one is remittances. Many migrant workers travel from developing nations to more wealthy ones, where they can earn more money or simply find jobs in order to support their families. These workers send part of their paycheck back home to their loved ones, many of whom live in extreme poverty. Last year alone, migrant workers across the planet sent home $554 billion. This is over three times the amount of international development aid given by wealthy nations. Importantly, remittances frequently go toward crucial essentials, like food, education and medicine.

Experts predict that COVID-19 will be one of the factors that lead to the first global increase in poverty in over 20 years. Migrant workers were already living in difficult conditions prior to the outbreak, and recent events have worsened their circumstances. Many put themselves in danger in order to travel abroad to provide for their families. Furthermore, all of the migrants in the U.S. without Social Security Numbers were ineligible for the stimulus checks sent out in early 2020. When migrant workers are unable to support their relatives back home, their families — who in many cases had to pool resources to “invest” in a family member traveling abroad — are plunged even further into poverty.

A Potential Solution

However, state legislators have the opportunity to provide leadership on how to properly support migrant workers in the U.S. during this time. In April, Massachusetts Democrats put forward Bill H.4726, or “An Act To Provide Equal Stimulus Checks to Immigrant Taxpayers” in the Massachusetts state legislature. The bill would provide financial stimulus support to undocumented taxpaying Americans. Though not all migrant workers are undocumented, this bill would serve as a policy response to the crisis that includes undocumented workers who pay taxes. 

Legislation like this, paired with an extended and expanded financial stimulus plan, would help to combat poverty at home and around the globe. No matter what someone’s immigration status is, they should be able to rest knowing that they and their families, wherever they may be, will not get sick or go hungry. Massachusetts still needs to vote on this bill, but its very existence shows that the United States is not powerless in this situation.

The Role of the US

The United States has the ability to help impoverished people in developing nations, who are suffering in numerous ways from the COVID-19 crisis. U.S. support does not just have to come in the form of international aid, as our domestic affairs impact the rest of the world. By making sure that migrant workers are included in coronavirus relief efforts, the U.S. would help reduce poverty among migrant workers and their families.

– Brendan O’Halloran
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Domestic Workers
In high-income countries, many households rely on dual-income earnings, creating a market hungry for domestic labor to help with childcare and housekeeping. To fill these roles affordably, families rely on the low wage labor of women from developing countries. Many of these domestic workers come from the Philippines and emigrate to wealthier countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. A significant portion finds work in the United States as well, making up 15% of American domestic workers. This labor export has become extremely vital to the Philippine economy, accounting for about 9% of the country’s total GNP. Although this model has remedied economic hardships for many Filipino families, the human sacrifices of this work are undeniable. Many of the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers must part with their children, endure grueling professional demands and become vulnerable to exploitation in their host countries.

Demand for Migrant Labor

While Filipino men tend to migrate for jobs in construction and transportation, women often work as caretakers and domestics. On average, the remittances of male migrants are double those of female migrants, who frequently fill lower-paying positions. However, working abroad is an opportunity accessible mostly to Filipinos with some preexisting class privilege. Some of the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers leave behind high-level jobs in their native country, their skills and education making them more attractive to foreign employers. Even so, the wages at more menial jobs abroad dwarf the women’s earning potential at home.

Benefits to the Philippines

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration reports that 1.2 million migrants work abroad each year and sent home $27 billion in remittances in 2014. This inflow of remittances is the third highest in the world, only ranking below India and China. When the capital from these remittances enters the national economy, families often invest in natural disaster relief, education and real estate. Exporting labor has also helped narrow the wealth gap, growing a more prosperous middle class. Nationalist rhetoric celebrates foreign labor and individuals who work abroad are praised as “new heroes.” The Philippine government even presents awards like the Model OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) Family of the Year Award to honor the sacrifices of specially dedicated migrant workers.

Personal Sacrifices and Children Left Behind

Despite the earning potential and social honor of working abroad, there is often a heavy emotional cost. Ironically, many Filipino women who leave home to provide childcare in the developed world must leave their own children behind. In the words of Manuela Peña, chief of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, “It is quite easy to become a successful overseas Filipino worker in terms of economic achievement, but we found out it is difficult to maintain family relations and turn (the life of a migrant worker) into success.”

Migrants frequently leave children with family members and childcare workers who do not have the means to work abroad. For workers who are undocumented in their host countries, shuffling back to the Philippines for regular visits is impossible and family separation can last for years. After returning for retirement, many workers spend their retirement caring for children of relatives who work abroad, so that the next generation of mothers and fathers might provide for their families through remittances.

Exploitation and Fair Treatment

Many of the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers are vulnerable to scams and exploitation. Recruiters can charge exorbitant fees, employers can provide poor working conditions and workers can receive unfair payment. The Philippine government has made some infrastructural and policy changes to grapple with these issues. Protections require that employers use standardized employment contracts, cap recruitment fees at reasonable rates and ban deployment to countries with records of poor migrant treatment. In 2012, the Philippines negotiated a groundbreaking $400 monthly minimum wage for Filipino domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

NGOs like Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation, Inc. help migrants maximize their savings through entrepreneurship, providing microloans and financial literacy education. This model of social entrepreneurship stimulates local economies, promotes community development and provides a lucrative alternative to migration.

The loans that the Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation distributes range from ₱3000 to ₱1 million. Borrowers have used the loans to expand their small businesses by employing additional staff, investing in newer machinery and buying vehicles. As of the 2017 annual report, the organization held multiple training events in Davao City and Butuan City, educating participants on family rights, entrepreneurship and business management.

In Conclusion

The Philippines’ labor export model has done much to lift families to comfortable middle-class lives. Many Filipinos now have greater access to capital and education because of the remittances that family members send. However, sacrifice and family separation remain as harsh byproducts. Fortunately, the government has put regulations in place to improve fairness and quality of life for the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers.

– Stefanie Grodman
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in India
The most devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in India may not be those caused by the virus itself. For the first time since India’s independence from the British crown, the already inordinate poverty rate is rising. The 69% of the nation that is on or below the poverty line are those who are at the greatest risk for infection. However, they are likely to face even more substantial damage from falling deeper into economic trouble.

The Problem

India has reported 1.24 million cases of COVID-19, but this data does not tell the full story of the country’s experience with the virus. With a population of over 1.35 billion, India actually has a lower rate of infection than the US. Many simply credit the nation’s sweltering climate to their proportionately low infection rate. While there may be some truth to this assumption, it is not a sufficient explanation. Another important factor is India’s astonishingly large poverty rate. Many of the country’s poor have little to no ability to practice social distancing, lack homes to shelter in place and do not have access to testing. The poverty-ridden sector of the population is therefore not only at great risk for infection but is also rarely accounted for in nationwide data.

The Causes

Throughout the pandemic, India has taken relatively strict action in terms of enforcing lockdown. This method has effectively impeded the spread of the virus among the wealthy, significantly contributing to the lower infection and mortality rates. With policies such as this in place, the most affluent citizens avoid crowded streets. Not only does this reality render many of the poorest members of the pre-virus workforce jobless as businesses close, but it even inhibits begging, something a great portion of the four million homeless people in India rely on for survival.

The Effects

In lieu of proper homes, virus protection and economic stability, the poorest members of society are finding new ways to try to combat their unfavorable circumstances. Slums are even more crowded than before and government-created hospitals have become the new shelter for many. Dr. Zarir Udawadia, an infectious disease specialist treating coronavirus patients in Mumbai, recognizes this problem: “How does one quarantine someone who has no home, or someone who lives cheek to jowl with ten others in a small room?”

Those especially discontented with their circumstances resort to migration, seeking to travel sometime hundreds of miles on foot in hopes of refuge. Migrants move through India in thousands, further risking infection from COVID-19 among other lethal diseases.

Who’s Helping

Although it is difficult to collect COVID-19  data in impoverished communities, there are organizations trying to combat this issue directly and provide aid to those suffering from the disease and its aftermath. For instance, Give2Asia provides funding for medical supplies for frontline workers, meals for those whose means of obtaining them are slashed by the effects of the pandemic and financial support to marginalized families.

India’s large number of people in poverty renders their numbers of infected with coronavirus inaccurate. However, the poorest sector of the nation has larger issues than the virus itself, as the nationwide lockdown takes away street vendors’ customers and, in extreme cases, the revenue of beggars. Many people resort to migration or are utilizing slums and government-created hospitals to find shelter. Though this situation is far from optimal, there are numerous organizations and frontliners that are continually combating the pandemic.

Ava Roberts
Photo: Flickr

What is the Northern Triangle?
If one ever wondered, “What is the Northern Triangle?” it is a region comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. This particular region experiences growing migration due to chronic violence, government corruption and economic setbacks. Approximately 265,000 people have migrated annually in recent years, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, and estimates determined that this number would double in 2019. The Northern Triangle is one of the poorest regions in the Western Hemisphere, with Honduras’, El Salvador’s and Guatemala’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita ranking at the bottom among Latin American countries. One can see these economic hardships as a direct consequence of decades of war and violence. Transnational gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18) plague the Northern Triangle with criminal activity and corruption. In addition to these factors, agriculture setbacks due to unpredictable weather contribute to this large migration.

The Northern Triangle’s Plans

With increasing migration from the area, the Northern Triangle is cracking down on existing issues. To address economic instability, the region implemented the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity which increased production and ensured public safety. Even though El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras mostly fund the plan, the Northern Triangle has experienced limited economic growth since its implementation in 2014.

When considering the question, “What is the Northern Triangle?” it is impossible not to mention corruption. To address growing corruption, each nation took a different route depending on what each one required. Officials addressed corruption quickly due to its setbacks on the economy. El Salvador caught and charged three previous presidents for embezzlement. Officials also created a plan to implement an international anti-corruption panel. In contrast, Guatemala appealed to the United Nations for assistance in establishing a group dedicated to prosecuting criminal groups. Together, they established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) which has lowered Guatemala’s homicide rate immensely. Meanwhile, Honduras set up a corruption-fighting committee and implemented various sweeping reforms in 2016.

The Future of the Northern Triangle

Since many migrants are seeking asylum in the United States, recent U.S. administrations have varied widely as far as how to approach this challenge. Under the current Trump presidency, the administration decided to increase border security. President Trump cut down on America’s foreign for Central America and is holding back on funding until the Northern Triangle fully addresses this migration issue. The number of refugees and migrants will continue to increase until governments implement policies that reduce corruption and insecurity. Without intervention and aid, the Northern Triangle will make little progress in solving the root cause of violence, fraud and poverty within its countries.

Srihita Adabala
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Why are More People Trying to Cross the Border?
With America’s current politicians, U.S. border security is tighter than it has been in decades. In the spring of 2018, the Trump Administration introduced the zero-tolerance immigration policy to discourage migration into the U.S. The policy required detention of all individuals who crossed the border illegally, with or without children.  This resulted in the separation of children from their parents and their placement in shelters around the country. The U.S., however, halted the policy on June 20, 2018, due to widespread backlash.  The government has been letting thousands of held migrants go free because it lacks enough beds to hold them in detention facilities. However, these implementations have not been successful in deterring people from attempting to illegally enter the country. With the heightened security, why are more people trying to cross the border?

The Decrease in Mexican Immigration

The important thing to note with the changing migration patterns is the demographics of the people. Undocumented immigrants are no longer mainly coming out of Mexico, which is how it has been in the past. In fact, the number of people fleeing Mexico is on the decline.  Since 2007, the number of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. declined by 2 million. They now make up less than half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. This is due partially to the increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the increase in price for human smugglers, but there are other factors too.

  • The economy in Mexico has improved and Mexican employment opportunities are rising.
  • Fertility rates in Mexico have dropped significantly in the last 60 years, from seven births in 1960 to only 2.1 in 2019.
  • Not only are there fewer immigrants, but the Mexican immigrants that are crossing the border have higher education and are more fluent in English than the U.S. has seen in the past.  Mexico is undergoing a demographic shift and a technological transformation that is making it more habitable for its population.

With the decrease in Mexican immigration due to an increase in Mexico’s living conditions, why are more people trying to cross the border? As Mexico increases opportunities, immigration statistics are shifting to the impoverished Central Americans.

Increase in Central American Immigration

In Central American countries, over half of the population lives below the poverty line. The Northern Triangle of Central America, or NTCA, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, has one of the highest homicide rates on earth and many consider this area to have some of the most dangerous countries. America is not the only country seeing a huge influx of these immigrants as well. Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica have seen a 432 percent increase in asylum applications, the majority coming from the NTCA.

Over 90 percent of the new illegal immigrants entering the U.S. is coming out of Guatemala specifically. Why are more people trying to cross the border? It is because of the challenges of poverty and violence in Guatemala.

  • About two-thirds of Guatemalan children live in poverty.
  • Over two-thirds of the indigenous population live in poverty.
  • The wealth distribution in the country is one of the most uneven distributions in the world. In fact, the top 1 percent control 65 percent of the wealth, and the top 5 percent control 85 percent. The economic elite is not indigenous either as most members have European heritage.
  • Guatemalans are itching to flee areas ridden with conflicts over land rights, environmental issues, official forced labor policies, gang violence, prostitution and human trafficking, and depressing crop prices that destroy farmers’ ability to make profits.

What the US is Doing to Help Guatemala

Fortunately, the U.S. is working to help improve conditions in Guatemala.  Traditionally, Guatemala and the U.S. have had a good relationship with a few disagreements over human rights and military issues. Guatemala has a strong trade system in place and the U.S. benefits by working to improve conditions there regarding security, governance, food security, civil rights, education, crime reduction and health service access for the people.

The U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America put in multiple initiatives including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Central American Regional Security Initiative and Food for Peace. The U.S.’s goal is to spur development in Guatemala and reduce the desire for illegal immigration into the U.S. The Trump Administration proposed to substantially cut funds for the country and to completely eliminate food aid. Congress shot down much of these cuts in the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2018 and 2019. However, in March 2019, the Trump Administration did suspend all U.S. military aid in the country when the Guatemalan government misused armored vehicles that the Department of Defense provided to combat drug trafficking. The Trump Administration is still actively trying to cut or eliminate all U.S. aid to Guatemala and the NTCA, but Congress remains actively invested in the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America.

– Gentry Hale
Photo: Flickr