Red Cross: Jordi Raich: “We are all overwhelmed by the dimension of the migration problem” | International

The outgoing head of the Regional Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for Mexico and Central America, Jordi Raich, on March 22, 2022, in Mexico City.
The outgoing head of the Regional Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for Mexico and Central America, Jordi Raich, on March 22, 2022, in Mexico City.Jose Mendez (EFE)

Jordi Raich leaves the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for Mexico and Central America at a critical time, when the organization has warned of an increase in migrant caravans arriving in Mexico from Central America due to the violence that is bleeding the region , the socioeconomic consequences caused by the covid-19 pandemic and the high levels of poverty and inequality, which cause Central American countries to expel tens of thousands of their citizens every year. These exiles seeking a change in their lives will need support throughout the journey, during which they may face violence from organized crime groups, so the support of the Red Cross and its allies is vital. As if this nightmare were not enough, the ICRC must also deal with the excesses and authoritarianism of regimes such as that of Daniel Ortega, who without any explanation expelled the ICRC mission chief from Nicaragua. The organization assures that it has not yet received an explanation for this decision and Raich maintains a cautious tone when discussing the relationship they maintain with the Managua regime. After the confusion of that arbitrary decision, the organization tries to take care of the channels of dialogue, to prevent the decisions of the Ortega government from hindering the work of the Red Cross in that Central American country, which is suffering one of its worst political crises. “We are still present in Nicaragua. The expulsion does not affect the institution,” says Raich in an interview with EL PAÍS at the ICRC headquarters in Mexico City, a large facility in a modern building in the Anzures neighborhood, where the offices of other international humanitarian organizations are also located.

Ask: What events have you come across in your work along the route of these migrant caravans that arrive in Mexico?

Answer: We meet people who suffer from extortion, loss of a limb along the way, dehydration, illness, everything you can imagine. Let’s say, in quotes, that if you do well, you can have minor problems, but if you do poorly you can end up in the hands of groups that trade and traffic people, so you can have much more serious problems. So that is where we try to minimize, as far as possible, those dangers on the route, through self-care messages, both digital and on paper, recommending to migrants how to behave, who to talk to, where to stay, offering them the chance to talk to their families.

P. In these years that you have been at the helm of the ICRC, has the situation of migrants worsened in terms of institutional protection or support from governments to ensure that these people have a safe route?

R. I see it the same as before. I think we are all a little overwhelmed by the size of the problem. We still face a dilemma, a two-headed monster: on one side is the emergency generated by those people who are in the caravan, or in a shelter, or those who suffer an assault. And we try to alleviate this situation from day to day. But, on the other hand, we discussed what is the long-term solution to create the conditions that do not force people to leave, because in the end most people do not want to emigrate, migrants are not tourists, they do not leave for a walk We find ourselves trapped between this dilemma that many times prevents both State institutions, such as governments, as well as humanitarian organizations from trying to find better solutions, because that requires a lot of time, a lot of money and long-term policies. This is not going to be resolved in two days or two years. It will require a large investment and a commitment to create security conditions, but above all for families to see a future in the country where they live.

P. What we see, however, is the militarization of borders in both Mexico and the United States. The deployment of the National Guard by President López Obrador. This militarization has given terrible scenes on both sides of the border. Is the ICRC concerned about this institutional violence against migrants?

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R. What worries us are the consequences of those policies. We, as an independent and neutral organization, do not discuss these decisions, because each country is free to decide how it wants to manage its migration and its borders. Now, if those policies or those actions generate humanitarian consequences, such as the improper use of force against migrants, then what we do with our teams on the ground is to take note and record all those consequences and share them with the authorities, so that try to prevent them. We have a good dialogue, open and frank, with the authorities. In other words, we speak clearly about things with all the governments in the region. How much of what we say they get to apply is up to them, but our job is to be there insisting.

P. Another crisis that has been generated in Central America is related to the departure of tens of thousands of Nicaraguans as a consequence of the authoritarian policies of the Daniel Ortega regime. Have you worked with these people, considered exiles?

R. We analyze them as migrants, we do not question the reason why they left. That is, obviously, we listen to their reasons, although we do not make statistics of the reason. We are dedicated to the humanitarian consequences. I say this because we are often asked what percentage of people leave for political reasons or what percentage leave for reasons of violence. And we don’t have that statistic and we don’t do it, nor do we have the resources to pretend to do it. Nor is it our job. What I want to say is that we do not have a differentiated treatment with migrants, whether it is a question of a certain political situation or if they flee from poverty or from a threat.

P. The Red Cross reached an agreement to review the conditions of those detained by the regime in Nicaragua, considered political prisoners. Have they been able to enter the prisons? What condition are these people in?

R. What we do is an agreement between the Government, the ICRC and the prison authorities to visit people deprived of liberty and from there we make our reports. Our job is not to question the reasons why people are detained, but to assess their physical and psychological conditions and whether their guarantees are being met. We generate reports that are confidential, which we share only with the prison authorities. In these reports we make recommendations to improve these conditions for those deprived of liberty, if they have to be improved.

P. I ask because there is a lot of criticism about the conditions in which these people are deprived of liberty, in many cases for protesting, for expressing critical opinions. Relatives have gone to the Red Cross hoping to find out how they are. Have you been able to verify their conditions?

R. If in reality these conditions are precarious, they are not humane, because there are many of the complaints that have been made, that is the part that we do not make public, because the basis of our work is precisely that confidential dialogue with the authorities. Nicaragua is not different in the way we work, we work the same in Nicaragua as in Kenya or in any other country where we visit prisons. Our standard way of working, which is the same everywhere, is not to comment publicly on the conditions we find ourselves in. They are discussed only with the authorities.

P. You received a decoration from the Government of Nicaragua which raised much criticism from the relatives of political prisoners. What do you think of those reviews?

R. That was part of a routine protocol, which is done with many people who leave many countries. Nicaragua is not the only country that has awarded this type of routine diplomatic distinction. We have relations with absolutely all the parties in any conflict, whatever its nature. It is precisely part of our work that position of not taking sides, having contacts with everyone. And I suppose you are going to ask me about the expulsion from Nicaragua of our chief of mission.

P. So is. Has there been any explanation from the Ortega government about that decision?

R. No kind of explanation from the Nicaraguan authorities. We do not know the specific reasons, we continue discussing. But we are still present in Nicaragua, because the expulsion does not affect the institution, only the person. We have a team that is working according to the agenda that we had planned without any impediment and for the moment without any problem.

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