Mohamad Fakih visits a family in Central America

Photo: Mohamad Fakih visits Juan and Mary’s family in Saltillo, Mexico. © UNHCR/Arturo Almenar

By UNHCR Staff

During his recent visit to Mexico, the Founder and CEO of Paramount Fine Foods found resilient people from the North of Central America (NCA) region who were forced to leave everything behind. But in Saltillo, these women, children and men are now taking their future into their own hands.

Mohamad Fakih is a successful entrepreneur who has been advocating for refugees by providing them with employment and mentorship opportunities in Canada. Last September, he travelled to Mexico to meet dozens of women, children and men who have found a new place to call home – a place where they are provided with basic necessities like food and water, shelter, and medical help, but also a place where they are given the chance to start a better life for themselves.

“In Mexico, I met with people who have suffered the devastating consequences of extreme violence in Northern Central America,” said Mohamad Fakih. People like 17-year-old Juan and Mary, his mom, who both left San Pedro Sula in Honduras with other family members, and walked day and night for six days to reach Mexico.

Juan endured the threats of neighbourhood gangs who tried to forcibly recruit him into trafficking of all kinds – armed extortion, drug trade, sexual exploitation – and he knew all too well the price to pay for refusing to cooperate. Not only was he severely beaten, but his sister was threatened with rape. The only way out, Juan says, was exile.

“In Mexico, I met with people who have suffered the devastating consequences of extreme violence in Northern Central America.”

Over the last five years, the number of refugees and asylum-seekers from Central America has skyrocketed. In countries like Honduras and El Salvador, local criminal gangs are now imposing their own, ruthless law – and people are coerced into paying them if they want to survive just another day. Boys and young men must endure daily threats of recruitment into gangs, while girls are sexually abused or forced into prostitution. In a climate of increased political and economic instability, impunity for such human rights violations is prevalent. This has led more than 387,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from the North of Central America to flee their homes in search of safety. Additionally, over 88,000 asylum-seekers from Nicaragua have also left their country since political unrest began in April 2018.

Most of them, after exhausting journeys that can take days on foot, have now found refuge in Mexico. Since January 2019, over 62,000 people have already claimed asylum there, with figures projected to reach 80,000 by the end of 2019. By comparison, Canada welcomed 55,000 people in 2018.

But there is hope: in collaboration with local partners, UNHCR recently established a ground-breaking economic integration programme in Saltillo to relocate refugees from the southern Mexican border with Guatemala to the northeastern part of the country, a region known as the country’s industrial corridor. These refugees have access to vocational training, and they are equipped with the right knowledge and skills for the local job market. Hundreds of men and women from Central America now have jobs and received help to find housing and put their children in schools.

“I know first-hand what it’s like to flee your home in search of safety and a better life,” said Fakih. “And as a business owner, I also know first-hand that investing in refugees pays off. I have experienced how providing jobs can restore dignity to refugees and their families and give them the opportunity to build better futures. Here in Saltillo, employers are working with UNHCR in welcoming newcomers and giving them a chance to succeed through job opportunities, which are essential for self-reliance, accessing basic services to sustain themselves and their families, as well as to fully integrate into a new society. I encourage business owners in Canada and all around the world to participate in helping refugees contribute to our societies by giving them a chance, too. Together, we can help them to succeed and build a prosperous future for us all.”

“Together, we can help them to succeed and build a prosperous future for us all.”

While visiting Saltillo, Mohamad Fakih delivered a strong message to Canadians about the situation in Central America, and reminded us of the importance of standing in solidarity with refugees and asylum-seekers. We can all do our part to make a difference in the lives of displaced people around the world. And we know Canada won’t let them down.

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