Migrants waiting to be let into the migrant transit centre in Danli, Honduras. 75,000 people have passed through the centre in the past three months, heading north in search of safety and a better life. Credit: Ed Prior/NRC

Millions in North Central America engulfed by war-like levels of violence

Published 24. Apr 2023
Extreme levels of violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are shattering lives and compounding humanitarian needs. Almost one in three people in North Central America are in urgent need of aid. The international community continues to overlook this crisis and is failing to provide adequate funding. It is becoming yet another large, protracted, neglected humanitarian disaster, warns the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).   

“The kinds of stories people have been telling me here in Honduras are similar to those from people in war-zones like Syria, Yemen or Ukraine,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of NRC, whilst visiting the country last week. “Violence permeates the very fabric of life and forces tens of thousands to flee their homes. People need support and protection so they can access their rights and live in safety and with dignity. A school now supported by NRC in La Lima had 5,000 students five years ago. Now, there are 1,200 left as thousands have dropped out or fled for the United States due to violence, the devastation of hurricanes, and poverty.”  

Across North Central America, heavily armed gangs, drug traffickers and transnational criminal organisations fuel society-wide corruption, and gender-based violence. Desperate migrants from the region – and from as far away as Africa and Asia – also trek through these dangerous terrains in search of protection and opportunities in North America. A thousand migrants from dozens of countries cross into Honduras every day seeking protection and a better life in North-America.

On top of this, the region is increasingly struck by the consequences of climate change and extreme weather events, destabilising livelihoods, and reducing access to resources. In Honduras alone, 3.2 million people are in need of aid, many of whom require both protection and food assistance.   

North Central America has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. The crisis manifests in forced displacement of entire communities, gang recruitment of children and young people, a lack of access to medical care, and large numbers of children dropping out of school. Rates of sexual violence and femicide far exceed rates globally.   

Despite the acute and growing humanitarian needs, last year saw grossly inadequate levels of funding for the response and some of the lowest globally, with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras receiving between a quarter and a half of the required amounts. 70 per cent of all funding for the region in 2022 came from the United States, highlighting the failure of other donor countries in Europe, the Gulf and large Asian economies to play their part. This trend looks set to continue in 2023.  

“Families that NRC is assisting with relocation, support and protection in Honduras told me how armed gangs used violence to take their land and property, and threatened to recruit their children. This forced them to flee their homes and ended their livelihoods and their children’s education,” said Egeland. “Women had survived horrific violence at home, including rape and other sexual violence. A woman was murdered every 28 hours last year in Honduras. Without increased attention and support for this crisis, nothing will change.”  

Organisations like NRC, and local and national authorities, have made some progress to support families forced to flee their homes. In March of this year, Honduras introduced a law to support internally displaced people and prevent violence and the forced recruitment conducted by criminal organisations. This legislation must be effectively implemented and get financial and diplomatic support from the outside world.

“There needs to be far greater recognition of the climate crisis, the situation facing young people, and the levels of violence that people in Honduras and Central America endure. The outside world has so far failed to react to this crisis in a way that matches its human cost. Only with a concerted effort, from many more donors, will there be the progress that is so clearly needed,” added Egeland.   


Facts and Figures:  

  • 9.3 million people are in need of aid across the sub-region including 3.2 million in Honduras, 5 million in Guatemala and 1.1 million in El Salvador.  
  • In 2022, El Salvador saw the lowest funding humanitarian response plan in the world, at just over a quarter funded. Honduras (43.6%) and Guatemala (36.9%) also saw pitiful levels of funding. 
  • NRC has been working in North Central America since 2014, and has supported tens of thousands of people affected by violence and natural disasters, including internally displaced people, those in need of international protection, people who have been deported, and the local host community. 

Notes to editors:  

  • B-roll from Egeland’s visit to Honduras is available for free use here. 
  • Photos from Egeland’s visit to Honduras are available for free use here.

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