Central America and Mexico are facing unprecedented pressure as the number of people seeking international protection rises at a time when access to asylum and territory is being limited through troubling border restrictions, said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, on wrapping up a two-week mission to the region.
“In Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, I have seen the tremendous strain the region is under because of the increasing flows of refugees and migrants. Extraordinary efforts are being made by governments and civil society to address these challenges,” Triggs said.
In conversations with internally displaced people, asylum seekers and refugees, Triggs heard stories of sexual violence, death threats and extortion in communities controlled by criminal gangs that – often coupled with economic hardship and the effects of climate change – have forced nearly a million people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to flee their homes.
In Guatemala, Triggs helped launch a programme led by UNHCR and the Guatemalan government’s secretariat on sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking. The aim is to prevent these crimes in remote areas of the country through mobile units that will take information about rights and services to where people need them most. In El Salvador, Triggs learned about innovative community-centred approaches led by the government to prevent violence and empower youth in communities at risk.
“Creating the conditions that make people feel safe and protected in their homes is an essential step in addressing the root causes that drive people to flee in this region,” she said.