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Central America the forgotten migrant crisis

18 April 20160 comments

Violence and gang-related strife in Central America has seen a rise in the numbers of refugees from the isthmus seeking asylum.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 3,423 people asked for asylum in Mexico in 2015, a 65% increase from the previous year.

Most of the petitions came from Honduran and Salvadoran nationals, with the number of Salvadorans seeking asylum in Mexico increasing four-fold between 2013 to 2015.

The United States also saw a big increase between 2014 and 2015, receiving twice as many asylum applications from the Northern Triangle region – Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The statistics have raised the question of how countries in the region can confront this increasingly interminable crisis with other Central American nations are registering similar increases.

And some diplomats fear a ‘Europe-style’ refugee crisis will emerge in the region.
Costa Rica saw a 16% rise in asylum petitions between 2014 and 2015, while Belize saw a ten-fold increase during the same time period.

Increases were also registered in Nicaragua and Panama, although the UNHCR has not released precise figures for those countries.

“The UNHCR is particularly concerned about the number of women and children refugees who face forced recruitment into criminal gangs, sexual and gender-based violence and murder,” a spokesman said.

Central America’s refugee crisis is largely the result of gangs and is being exploited by other criminal groups.

Forced from their homes by huge risks associated with living among violent gangs, they are often victimized along the way by criminal groups that routinely extort, rape, and kidnap migrants.

Observers say it has become the world’s forgotten migrant crisis as media attention fixes on the European migrant crisis.

The US has said it plans to work with the UN in creating several offices in the Northern Triangle where people can apply for asylum in the US before they make the journey.

This policy shift comes after the US saw a wave of unaccompanied child migrants apprehended at its southern border between 2013 to 2015.

That focused US attention on the issue of Northern Triangle gang violence causing children and women to flee.

But US-bound migrants fleeing Central American violence is nothing new. Cold War conflict in El Salvador led to Los Angeles, California’s Salvadoran population outnumbering that any city in El Salavdor, except the capital, San Salvador.

The current increase in Salvadoran would-be asylum-seekers is a direct result of that country’s status as the most violent in the western hemisphere.



Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist