In 2014, thousands of unaccompanied children and women from Central America sought safety in the United States, specifically finding sanctuary in Texas. More than 10,622 unaccompanied children and 16,329 adults with children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in June alone last summer.
The asylum-seekers primarily come from three countries- Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These countries have been named three of the most dangerous countries in Central America by the United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
Breaking these three counties up individually will make it easier to see why residents are fleeing to the United States.
Guatemala is not only one of the top three dangerous places in Central America, but it is named in the top 25 dangerous places in the world. Violent crime such as rape, kidnapping, murder and armed robbery happen here.
According to Children on the Run, a study conducted by the United Nations Refugee Agency reported three main reasons people were fleeing from their home country to a more safe life. These included deprivation, abuse in their own homes and violence in society. The interviewees ranged from ages 11-17 and had safely made it to the United States.
In 2014, the Policia Nacional Civil reported 4,998 homicides and a 21-percent increase in 2015 to 5,728 homicides. This equates to 91 murders a week.
This country credits these homicides to drug trafficking, gang violence, gun violence and the lack of judicial accountability.
Examining the United States Crime Statistics, rapes in Guatemala raised from 120 cases in 2009 to 613 in 2015. These cases are reported to be mainly family related.
Armed robbery made a 13-percent increase in the past year and rose to 312 reported cases a year. A large amount of these cases happen in popular tourist towns such Guatemala City or Antigua. Most cases have two suspects that target victims who have visible valuable items. The victims tend to be approached on motorcycles so that perpetrators can escape in a quick manner.
Kidnapping threats in this country are mostly gang related, with a main target towards members working within the drug industry. Most gang members have been “trained” to kidnap and kill regardless if the ransom has been paid or not.
Guatemala’s crime rates compare very closely with Honduras’.
According to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Honduras has had some of the highest murder rates in the world since 2010. These rates run as high as 79 people murdered per 100,000 people, and of these people two murders were U.S. citizens in 2015.
Carjackings are a highly reported crime in Honduras. The suspects will pose as law enforcement agents and approach victims. Rates have increased from 45 out of 100,000 residents in 2013 to 55 out of 100,000 residents in 2015.
Honduras has about eight million residents with roughly 7,000 involved in gangs. The infamous MS-13 and 18th Street are very prominent in this area that perform crimes such as extortion, murder, drug regulations and carjackings.
While the interviewees from Children on the Run representing Honduras gave similar reasons for fleeing as in Guatemala, they varied slightly. The children were either threatened with or victims of violence, faced abuse in their homes, had fallen victim to both violence in society and abuse in their own homes and/or faced deprivation.
The interviewees from both Guatemala and Honduras had one hope: Reunification with their family at some point.
El Salvador has also been named one of the most violent countries in the world according to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
El Salvador has “smaller” more frequent crimes such as credit card skimming to “larger” crimes such as murder and gang related violence where anyone could be a target.
El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world with statistics showing 6,657 reported homicides in 2015, a 69-percent increase from 2014. Rape cases went down between 2014 and 2015.
Armed robberies towards tourists and businesspersons continued to be the highest threat in this country though. Gangs, such as the MS-13, strategically target victims based on “rich looks” and valuable items being shown.
Extortion remains a very common crime in San Salvador, the capitol of El Salvador. The number of cases reported dropped just below 2,200, but police have found many of these calls to originate from prison.
According to a Central American University poll from the beginning of January 2016, about 25-percent of El Salvador residents did fall victim to a crime in 2015.
The interviewed children from Children on the Run said their main reasons for coming to the United States were simple: they were victim to organized violence, abuse in their homes and deprivation. Most of the reasons all line up with why other refugees seek sanction in the United States.
Common trends across the three countries show reasons why these refugees are leaving: abuse, organized violence and deprivation, these numbers unfortunately fluctuate from year to year, with a favor of increasing.
The remaining question is, what can people in the United States do to help make their transition smoother and to help make them remain with their families or be reunited safely with their families.
The answer to that will vary from person-to-person, but educating oneself can be the first step in helping.