The escalating violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala is forcing many citizens—especially mothers and children—to flee to safety.
Gangs are the drivers of much of the violence occurring in the Northern Triangle. In 2012, the U.S. Department of State estimated that there were about 85.000 gang members spread throughout the region, with the greatest number residing in Guatemala. Extortion from criminal organizations was also widespread.
As a result, it has become increasingly common to hear stories about people of all ages—including young children—fleeing El Salvador’s gang-controlled cities under the threat of “murder, extortion, kidnap and rape.”
The effect of this extreme level of violence is the escalation in the number of people fleeing the region. Data compiled by the UNHCR show that the number of Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans who request asylum in Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama increased by a staggering 1,179 percent from 2008 to 2014, while asylum requests increased by 370 percent for the United States over the same time period.
Given the staggering levels of violence in the Northern Triangle region, the United States must work with these countries and the UNHCR to find a holistic approach to address the root causes of emigration; provide opportunities for people to request and make full and fair claims for protection; and have proper screening procedures for those who arrive at the U.S. border seeking asylum. The $750 million that Congress recently appropriated to help El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala improve security, mitigate poverty, and strengthen their governments is a good start toward tackling the root causes of violence and poverty. In the meantime, the United States must stay true to its commitments to protect desperate people—especially women and children—who are pursuing security and freedom.