Last year, the United States and European Union each adopted a new kind of response to the rapid rise of refugees and migrants into their countries. Rather than simply play defense to the onslaught of people, they decided to change the thinking of people who might be tempted, out of fear or desperation, to flee their native lands.
For the EU, the focus was on Africa. For the US, the focus has been on Central America. The new response: more aid and assistance to address the root causes of the mass migration. As President Obama said last week at a global summit on migration, “If we truly want to address the crisis,... [w]e have to insist on greater investments in development and education and democratic institutions, the lack of which fuels so much of the instability we see in the world.”
The EU set up an “Emergency Trust Fund” targeted at 23 African countries. So far it has approved nearly $1 billion to improve security and promote job creation in those countries. The US, meanwhile, is spending $750 million in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, the main sources of migrants across the southwestern border. The three countries are promising $2 billion of their own money.
The EU has yet to report much progress for its spending, but the US, along with its Central American partners, has begun to see results. In Honduras and El Salvador, homicides are down this year. With US money and advice, each country is tackling the core criminality – corruption, drugs, and gangs – that lies behind a high rate of murders. In El Salvador, the government has made it difficult for convicted gang members to run operations from prison. It also set up methods to interdict the financial transactions of gangs. In Honduras, the government has reviewed all 14,000 police officers to find which ones are corrupt. About 40 percent were removed.
In Guatemala, meanwhile, anti-corruption efforts have been greatly increased – even felling a president – and the police and tax-enforcement agencies are being modernized. In all three countries, US aid is also targeted to boost private-sector job creation and integrate the economies of the three countries into a common market. The region needs to create 500,000 jobs a year to reduce a youth unemployment rate of about 30 percent.
Migration of Central Americans into the US has gone up this year, after dipping last year, but that may be caused by the belief that a wall-building Donald Trump might become president. The real effort to stem the migration from the region lies in reducing the fear and anguish. Both the EU and US need success in such efforts. The world migration crisis is too big to simply build more walls.