Crisis in Central America

Uncontrolled gang violence and exploitation forces thousands to flee their homes in Central America.

In the hills above the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, vacant houses indicate the scale of forced displacement from neighbourhoods controlled by street gangs. Displacement is particularly affecting informal communities in Honduras that have been traditionally marginalised and excluded.
Photo: ©UNHCR/Tito Herrera

For those living in the North of Central America (NCA), everyday life unfolds in the shadow of constant fear.

Please help these families find safety and survive.


to protect those who’ve fled with nothing

Cash Assistance

to help families cover basic survival costs like rent and medicine


to provide legal assistance throughout the asylum process

What’s happening in the Central America?

For those living in the North of Central America (NCA), everyday life unfolds in the shadow of constant fear. In a geographical area that is already struggling to thrive amidst widespread economic and political instability, the threat of violence, intimidation, and extortion at the hands of the local mara or pandilleros (gangs) makes a challenging situation all the more desperate.

Rampant violence in the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—the three countries making up the North of Central America—has forced thousands to flee, seeking asylum in nearby countries such as Mexico and the United States, or even overseas.

Around 470,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from the North of Central America in the world and 318,590 internal displaced people in Honduras and El Salvador have been forced to flee their homes because of brutal violence.

What does life in the North of Central America look like?

Refugees who have managed to escape El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are united by a common, horrifying, thread. They have witnessed atrocious violence by heavily-armed gangs operating with near-impunity as security forces turn a blind eye, making the NCA one of the deadliest places on earth.

What does such rampant violence look like for people living day to day in the NCA? In practice, it means no-one is safe—anyone could become subject to the scrutiny of the mara or pandilleros. Working mothers and fathers are often forced to pay exorbitant “war taxes”, leaving little behind to support their families.

The streets of many cities are war zones where rival gangs battle day and night. If someone is not the subject of direct violence, they likely have witnessed brutal beatings or the murder of innocent friends or family. It is a constant fear that you could find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The path to safety for those leaving the NCA is not without challenges. Increasing pressure to curtail immigration in both Mexico and the United States has made it difficult for refugees fleeing turmoil to receive the refuge they need. Thousands of refugees arriving in asylum countries are detained and deported back home almost immediately.

How can you help?

Often having to flee in great haste, asylum seekers leave nearly everything behind, including their friends, family all their belongings and a stable source of income. Upon arrival in their country of asylum, Central American refugees struggle to find a home and a job to support themselves and their families. Most are mourning the loss of and separation from family members and long to be reunited with them and build a new life together.

Donations help fund UNHCR initiatives that provide immediate assistance to Central American refugees such as cash grants for rent and basic necessities, legal assistance for those beginning the lengthy asylum application process, and counseling to help refugees recover from the traumatic experiences they have endured.

Generous donor support will help us fulfill our commitment to providing refugees in the NCA access to basic needs and necessities, while also helping us implement support systems for long term community empowerment and self-reliance. Join us as we help asylum communities offering displaced Central Americans a safer future, free from the constant threat of indiscriminate violence and extortion.

What is UNHCR doing to help?

Everyone has the right to live in safety. No one should be forced to leave everything behind, to face unfathomable tragedies or to lose their own lives, to find a safe haven. Everyone who fears violence and persecution in their home country has the right to seek asylum, and we work tirelessly across Central America so they can enforce it.

We work closely with partners, including the civil society and parishes, in high-risk and displaced communities to increase their resilience and support those who had no other choice but to flee. We are also encouraging solutions for internally displaced people, refugees, asylum-seekers and deportees with protection needs from the NCA and Nicaragua.

We also work with other humanitarian and development agencies to make sure we reach everyone in countries of origin, including through programmes that seek to empower internally displaced people, children, women, deportees with protection needs, LGTBI people and others affected by violence. We provide life-saving support and cash grants to help displaced people cope.

Where can I access latest data, maps and reports?

NCA Situation Portal—for latest updates on the crisis overall, including UNHCR situation reports, funding requirements and UNHCR’s support for countries hosting refugees from the North of Central America.

Did you know that women, children and unaccompanied minors make up a large portion of those seeking refuge from the North of Central America?

The Ángel Velásquez family show off their bread at the family’s bakery in San José, Costa Rica. They have built a successful business here since fleeing Colombia.

When Ricardo Ángel, Miriam Velásquez and their children fled the armed conflict in Colombia in 2002, they reached Costa Rica with little more than hope. Now 15 years on, the couple run a highly successful gluten-free bakery in the Central American nation’s capital, San José. Despite having their education disrupted by war and flight, their children Alejandro and Adriana are now both successful professionals. Alejandro is a graphic designer and Adriana is a dental assistant. Costa Rica has a tradition of welcoming refugees. During the 1970s and 1980s, when civil wars erupted across the region, it remained peaceful, keeping its doors open to those at risk. The country allows refugees to flourish, providing grants and the right to work and study while their asylum applications are processed.

Photo: ©UNHCR/Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo

Donate Today
Please help refugee families and internally displaced people in the North of Central America.

Donate Today
Please help refugee families and internally displaced people in the North of Central America.

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