The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Making an Impact: A Year of Bearing Witness and Taking Action
By Michael Kourabas on November 25, 2019
The world’s politicians and institutions have failed to act on behalf of displaced families and those fighting for their right to stay safely at home — even as the numbers of those who are forced to migrate increases daily, and violence against land and water defenders continues unabated. It’s why we are so grateful to our members who put their trust in UUSC to defend the rights of people displaced or threatened with displacement due to climate, conflict, or other hardships — offering whatever support they can give to help develop lasting solutions rooted in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.
We know another world is possible — if we have the collective vision to dream it and the courage and determination to dismantle the systems that prevent it. And you and UUSC are working toward a world where everyone has a place they can call home, where they can live in safety and freedom.
Addressing the causes of migration begins by supporting people in their daily struggles for liberation. In the face of towering injustice, we and our grassroots partners have fought throughout the year to confront the underlying causes of human rights abuses, while also addressing immediate harms, including:
- State-sanctioned violence that causes people to leave their homes behind;
- Fear-mongering, misinformation, and xenophobic policies aimed at immigrant communities; and
- Theft of land from indigenous peoples by those industries that pollute the environment and extract the earth’s resources.
As we reflect on this year’s work, we are proud to share just a few examples of progress and successes you have helped make happen.
Solidarity in Central America
Development projects, violence, corruption, and impunity continue to undermine the right of Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans to remain safely at home. For example, in the Guapinol community of Honduras our partners face an ongoing struggle against the illegal Los Pinares mining project, which threatens to destroy the land and water on which their lives depend. Dozens of water defenders must confront fabricated charges from corrupt officials and possible jail sentences intended to intimidate and silence activism and strip the community of its rights.
Taking our lead from our grassroots partners and thanks in part to our members’ advocacy pressure, we have put the Honduran government on notice that the world is watching. International attention — which included several emergency delegations of solidarity and physical accompaniment like UUSC’s attendance at the first trial of Honduran water defenders in Tegucigalpa in February — has helped to make a significant difference. Subsequently, all of the first group of 12 activists who were charged were released. In August, seven other water defenders with similar arrest warrants against them voluntarily presented themselves to court in San Pedro Sula and were immediately detained. Alongside our partners, we will continue protesting their detention, seeking a fair trial, and working to stop any potential prison sentences.
Safe Spaces Along the Migrant Trail
At our southern border, thousands of families and children are stranded in dangerous conditions without permanent shelter, a direct result of our government’s enforcement of its “Remain in Mexico” policy. U.S. border agents are requiring asylum-seekers to wait in long lines where they face threats of extortion.
To address this crisis, UUSC partnered with Espacio Migrante to support its creation of a safe space for migrants and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico. Espacio aims to aid migrants not only at the crisis stage, but in their longer-term integration as well, providing legal, employment, language, and educational support in addition to shelter.
With UUSC’s support, Espacio completed construction of the shelter and, since February, has been hosting approximately 40 people at a time. In total, they have housed more than 180 people from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Belize, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, and they are usually at full capacity. The Refugee Help Alliance, an organization of doctors who were based in Caracol, are moving into the space as well, providing rental income to Espacio and supporting their residents and clients with free medical care.
Espacio is also helping separated families reunite and reintegrate into Mexican society. Last year, when Espacio discovered that family of a man they had previously sheltered were arriving in Tijuana, Espacio opened the shelter early, welcomed the brother and his children, and housed them for two-and-a-half months. During that time, Espacio helped the brother find a job in maintenance at an elementary school, where he was able to earn a small income. When he was arbitrarily detained, harassed, and had his $50 wages stolen by police in Tijuana, Espacio’s attorney was able to secure his release.
For the third year in a row, UUSC is supporting Asociación Pop No’j to accompany the return and reintegration of migrant children and adolescents to Guatemala, where corruption and impunity are rampant and the state is unable or unwilling to respond to the needs of the people. As Pop No’j described it to us, as “[t]he deterioration of conditions in the country continues…the approach to migration cannot be separated from considerations on the economic, social, political and environmental context.”
With UUSC’s support, Pop No’j has more than 50 ongoing cases of assistance and reintegration, with a particular focus on accompanying minors who have traveled back to Guatemala alone or who were separated from their family in the U.S. and have been returned to Guatemala, in need of trauma recovery and physical health support.
In September, UUSC joined Pop No’j on a Washington, D.C.-based delegation to bring together grassroots organizations working on migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States. Over the course of three-days, UUSC’s partners and other civil society leaders from the region met with Congressional offices to advocate for the rights of migrant youth from Central America and to oppose U.S-backed so-called “safe third country” and “Remain in Mexico” agreements that externalize U.S. border control and return people to danger. UUSC provided financial, planning, and on-the-ground support to the delegation to maximize the impact of their visit.
We give heartfelt thanks to our members and supporters for being a vital part in UUSC’s successes this year. To learn more about our collective impact for human rights, check out our recent impact report, “Strengthening Grassroots Movements for Systemic Change.”
Photo Credit (Header): Espacio Migrante; Photo Credit (Guapinol Defenders): Radio Progreso
About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!