236 - Different Continents, Different Humanitarian Problems – Central America
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Different Continents, Different Humanitarian Problems: the Northern Triangle

Violence has triggered a flow of migrants from The Northern Triangle

In our new series ‘Different Continents, Different Humanitarian Problems’, we take a macro look at some of the greatest challenges people face on each continent. For a start, we examine Central America where tens of thousands of people flee because of violence and disruption of normal living conditions.

Humanitarian Problems in The Northern Triangle

Violence and rampant crime have generated the flow of asylum seekers from Central America to the United States. Especially in The Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala) gangs and members of drug cartels run the streets. The number of Central American migrants at the US border, including many unaccompanied children, has increased dramatically. The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) found that as of August 2016, more than 160,000 unaccompanied minors had arrived since the spring of 2014.

Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world. Gang-related violence in El Salvador took the country’s homicide rate to ninety per hundred thousand in 2015, making it the world’s most violent country not involved in a war. All three countries have significantly higher murder rates than neighboring countries like Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.

According to the same CMS report, approximately 6.5 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years in Northern Triangle countries live in neighborhoods controlled by gangs. Violent criminals have infiltrated schools, and this makes the daily trip to and from school an agonizing experience for children. As one person puts it in the report, “if you’re young and poor, your lives are at risk every day.”

Fleeing the violence, many children find their way up north to the United States trying to reach family members. However, new guidelines for US border patrol explicitly call for parents of unaccompanied minors to be prosecuted for human smuggling or trafficking. This is a huge blow to thousands of parents who were attempting to unify their families. WALO reports that between 2015 and 2016, over 180,000 children and families fleeing the violence in Central America were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Upon return to their home country, deportees face increasingly dangerous circumstances. They are forced to deal with danger from well-organized, transnational gangs that track their movements and seek to exact revenge or simply to extort them. As one migrant mother of five said, ". . . we bear our coffin day after day on our shoulders, because every moment and every place can be our cemetery without cross and flowers."

Especially people who cannot rely on family or friends for shelter and support, are at far greater risk. Lives are lost every day due to lack of vigilance, insufficient resources coupled with few or nonexistent effective protection programs. Migrants deserve protection from these humanitarian problems. Of greater importance is their involvement in development programs and the rule of law initiatives in the region to improve opportunities for citizens, especially youth. Without such support, this crisis will continue into the indefinite future.

Thanks to our shared goal of helping others and making our planet a better home for all of us, we work in close cooperation with humanitarian organizations and the individual humanitarian travelers themselves. If you want to learn more about humanitarian problems around the globe, please follow our blog.