Opinion: Central American governments must share blame for migrant deaths | Opinion | DW | 27.06.2019
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Opinion: Central American governments must share blame for migrant deaths

The image of drowned Oscar Martinez Ramirez and his young daughter is shocking. But it's not just the US — the governments of Central America must also be held responsible, says Oliver Sallet.

Heartbreaking, inhumane, simply incomprehensible. The image of drowned Oscar Martinez Ramirez from El Salvador and his 2-year-old daughter Valeri, is not only shocking, it also raises questions.

It must have been terrible for Tania Avalos, the surviving wife and mother, who had to watch helplessly from the shore: The struggle for survival, her own powerlessness at the realization of having risked everything in the hope for a better life, only to lose everything in the end.

A wake-up call for Trump?

You could now treat this as a wake-up call for US President Donald Trump and his inhumane refugee policy. And it is clear that to some, the photo will be proof of a "state of emergency at the border" and that a wall must be built so that such scenes are not repeated. The Democrats, on the other hand, will feel vindicated in their arguments that it is, above all, a humanitarian crisis and these two deaths are the result of a cynical migration policy.

But simply blaming US refugee policy is too simple. Thousands are fleeing poverty, violence and gang crime in central America, hoping to find protection and a better life in the US.

It is the corruption-stricken governments there that have both these lives on their consciences, and many others who have died on their way to the US.

Oliver Sallet

Oliver Sallet is DW's Washington Correspondent

El Salvador, the home of the Martinez family, is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Corruption and violence characterize people's daily lives here. According to estimates by the United Nations' World Food Programme, 40% of the population live below the poverty line. The state has, along with various neighboring countries, long since lost its monopoly on the use of force.

When you no longer dare to venture outside

Almost everyone in El Salvador has a story to tell about the maras, the dreaded youth gangs like "Calle 18" or "Mara Salvatrucha." They control entire districts, extort protection money, force families to flee or murder them if they do not comply with the demands.

Only by putting a stop to these gangs, so that people can once again take to the streets without fear and see a perspective for the future in their own country, will the number of refugees be reduced and scenes such as those on the Rio Grande not be repeated. Until then, no wall or fence will protect the United States from the desperate search for safety and a better life.

Read more: US cuts aid to three Central American countries over migration

Above all, people in Central America will continue to dream of the land of unlimited possibilities, described by friends and relatives who have made it. But for most, the hopes they are counting on and for which they are willing to risk their lives, are false. The search for education, work and a future in the US is difficult. Only very few have any chance of being given political asylum, and most applications are rejected.

Misery in US doesn't stop migration

Until then, there is also the threat of inhumane prison conditions in completely overcrowded refugee camps. It may take years for the overburdened authorities to process an application.

And those who have no family in the US often end up on the streets. The many homeless migrants who fight for survival on a daily basis in the cities near the Mexican border are the clearest proof.

But all this prevents very few from heading north. All the misery that awaits them seems small compared to what they want to leave behind. For them, the United States remains the land of unlimited hope and opportunity — but for Central American migrants that opportunity increasingly rarely presents itself.

Watch video 06:47

Visiting a gang prison in El Salvador

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