Central America turns its back on hundreds of thousands fleeing ‘war-like’ violence
Governments in Central America are fuelling a deepening refugee crisis by failing to tackle rampant violence and sky-high homicide rates in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras which are forcing hundreds of thousands to flee, Amnesty International said in a new report today.
Home Sweet Home? Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador’s role in a deepening refugee crisis explores how the three countries are failing to protect people from violence, and also failing to set up a comprehensive protection plan for deportees forced by countries such as Mexico and the USA to return to life-threatening situations.
“El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have become virtual war zones where lives seem to be expendable and millions live in constant terror at what gang members or public security forces can do to them or their loved ones. These millions are now the protagonists in one of the world’s least visible refugee crises,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General at Amnesty International.
“Although countries like Mexico and the USA are utterly failing to protect Central American asylum seekers and refugees, it is high time for authorities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to own up to their role in this crisis and take steps to tackle the problems that force these people to leave home in the first place.”
“Millions of Central Americans are falling through the cracks, victims of countries that do not fulfil their responsibility to provide the international protection they need, and of their own governments’ utter inability and unwillingness to keep them safe from the most tragic end.”
Amnesty International USA has asked President Obama to designate Guatemala for Temporary Protective Status (TPS) and re-designate El Salvador and Honduras for Temporary Protected Status because of the devastating increase in violence that has led to an acute humanitarian emergency in these countries. This will grant protection to people from those countries who have fled the violence of these emergency situations and are already present in the United States.
“We can no longer turn our backs on the refugee crisis in our own backyard by sending desperate people back to certain danger,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “Rather than treating refugees and asylum-seekers as criminals, we must offer protection to those who pose no threat and who have done nothing other than seek safety for themselves and their loved ones.”
Homicide rates in El Salvador have escalated dramatically in the past three years as people are increasingly caught up in ruthless fights between rival gangs trying to assert control over territories.
Murder rates in Guatemala and Honduras are also among the highest on earth.
The United Nations has ranked El Salvador as one of the deadliest countries on earth outside of a war zone, with more than 108 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015.
In Honduras the rate was 63.75 and in Guatemala it was 34.99 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Young people are the hardest hit by violence, with more than half of those killed in the three countries in 2015 under 30 years of age.
Young boys often join the gangs under duress, while girls are forced to become gangsters’ “girlfriends” and are often sexually abused.
Shop owners and bus drivers are routinely extorted and forced to pay “taxes” to the gangs controlling their area. Those who fail to follow the strict unwritten rules of conduct are often abused or killed.
Many young children across the three countries told Amnesty International they had quit school for fear of gang members and now have to spend all day at home.
The Salvadoran Ministry of Education has been reported as saying that 39,000 students left school due to harassment or threats by gangs in 2015 – three times the figure in 2014 (13,000). The teachers’ union said they believed the real number could be more than 100,000.
In some cases, teenagers are harassed and attacked by the security forces, accused of being part of a gang.