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Frontline responders from the North of Central America shed light on a silent crisis affecting women and children at Canada’s doorstep

A woman from El Salvador walks along the train tracks in the stretch that divides Arriaga (chiapas) from Chauites (Oaxaca), in Chiapas, Mexico. © UNHCR/Markel Redondo

A woman from El Salvador walks along the train tracks in the stretch that divides Arriaga (Chiapas) from Chahuites (Oaxaca), in Chiapas, Mexico. ©UNHCR/Markel Redondo

Gang violence and organized crime continue to cause increasing displacement within and outside the North of Central America

More and more refugees are fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – countries collectively known as the North of Central America (NCA).  Rampant gang violence and organized crime have driven thousands of people out of their homes, many of them unaccompanied children and women, to seek safety in neighbouring countries.

More than 294,000 asylum seekers and refugees from the North of Central America were registered globally as of the end of 2017, an increase of 58 per cent from a year earlier. This is sixteen times more people than at the end of 2011.

Key population figures in the North of Central America (NCA) Region in 2017. © UNHCR

Key population figures in the North of Central America (NCA) Region in 2017. ©UNHCR

To raise the visibility of the crisis, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is welcoming government representatives and human rights activists from the region on 18-20 June, to share first-hand information with Canadians.

“We recognize the psychological impacts suffered by the victims of violence who have lost their means of livelihood and whose lives have been interrupted in such violent ways,” testifies Raquel Caballero de Guevera, a Public Prosecutor for the Defence of Human Rights of El Salvador.

Antonia Rodriguez, a representative of Casa Alianza Mexico, a not-for profit organization which works with unaccompanied children, shares the urge to spread the word about the situation of unaccompanied children her organisation assist when they arrive in Mexico:

“We are  committed to identify solutions, working hand in hand with the government, international organizations and civil society, and thus, are grateful for the opportunity to share first-hand information with Canadians, which hopefully will help us getting the means to achieve our mission.”

Pedro Lopez, 44, from Honduras at The Jtatic Samuel Ruiz García shelter in Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. Pedro fell from a train as he attempted to flee and suffered severe injuries in his left arm and in both legs.

Pedro Lopez, 44, from Honduras at The Jtatic Samuel Ruiz García shelter in Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. Pedro fell from a train as he attempted to flee and suffered severe injuries in his left arm and in both legs. ©UNHCR/Markel Redondo

Youths have been particularly affected by the violence. According to a study by UNHCR, the number of unaccompanied and separated children fleeing the NCA countries has doubled every year since 2011. In the last five years, 240,600 unaccompanied children were apprehended in the U.S. and Mexico. Gangs are extorting, kidnapping, and sexually abusing girls and boys, while schools have become fertile ground for forcible recruitment.

Isiss Sauceda, a lawyer from Honduras who has extensive experience relating to internal displacement caused by violence, and Claudia Virginia Samayoa, a Guatemalan human rights advocate fighting against trafficking in Mexico and across the NCA region are part of the delegation.

“Because of its proximity to the NCA region, we believe that Canada can play a critical role in supporting our partners’ efforts in protecting and assisting these children and women who flee such gruesome violence,” noted Jean-Nicolas Beuze, UNHCR Representative in Canada.

“Getting first-hand testimonies from government and civil society partners who are responding on a daily basis to the plights of these refugees is a unique opportunity for Canadians to engage on these not-so-known issues. We hope this will help mobilise Canada and Canadians to do even more for these refugees.”

Children on the Run in Central America – Help UNHCR Help Them

  • Join us at one of our FREE public events in Toronto (June 18) and Ottawa (June 20) as part of our Speaking Tour by registering on Eventbrite here.
  • To learn more about UNHCR’s work in the region and how you can help click here.
  • Click here see our Media Advisory in English and Spanish.

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