Walking along the "Suchiate" river banks at the border between Guatemala and Mexico. Photo: Milena Ayala/NRC

U.S. not facing deep crisis in own neighbourhood: Central Americans denied asylum and aid

Published 23. Sep 2019
Desperate Central American families fleeing violence are denied their right to protection and increasingly turned back to insecurity by military forces, barbed wires and walls.

“Travelling the migrant route from San Salvador to Tapachula in Mexico I met with men, women and children who fled homicides, threats, torture and sexual violence. Their stories are similar to those I hear in war zones, yet these people are met by a policy of closed borders and aid cuts led by their northern U.S. neighbour,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council who is travelling through the region.

Last year alone, 10,500 people were killed in Northern Central America. Nearly 700,000 Central Americans are estimated to be internally displaced. Natural disasters also increase the need for humanitarian assistance in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Large communities face armed gangs, extortion, trafficking, child recruitment and sexual and gender-based violence.

The number of asylum applications from the North of Central America are only comparable with countries at war, according to UNHCR. In 2018, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Mexicans were among the top ten nationalities claiming asylum in the world, alongside people from Syria, Venezuela, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

“To leave or to stay and die is the only choice left for thousands in the North of Central America. Inefficient, expensive and abusive border control measures in addition to counterproductive political rhetoric from the U.S. must be replaced with solidarity and support for their own vulnerable neighbourhood. We have to call a spade a spade: The U.S. and a number of European nations are now burial squads for the ancient right of asylum for fellow human beings who flee for their life,” said Egeland.

Militarisation at the borders, cuts in humanitarian aid, restricted access to documents and non-functioning so called “safe-third-country agreements” make it virtually impossible for people displaced by violence to reach safe havens.  

Despite the massive needs, NRC and humanitarian actors present in the region have little funding. The limited international aid is allocated to long term development and disaster-response programs.

“Hope of a better future at home is leaving large and vulnerable groups of youth across this violence-stricken region. The misguided U.S. funding cuts for programs that provide education, livelihoods and local peace-making are enormously counter-productive. It will fuel the migration north. We therefore need a UN-led regional humanitarian response plan to mobilise funding and improve humanitarian coordination so people receive critically needed aid,” said Egeland.