PANAMA CITY – In Latin America, some 8 million people have been driven from their homes by the unremitting violence, of whom more than 7 million are in Colombia, an indication that the crisis of displaced persons and refugees is closer than imagined to Central America.
EFE confirmed this in an interview with the regional representative for Central America, Cuba and Mexico of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Ecuadorian Jose Samaniego, who said that “year after year” the number of refugees, applicants for asylum and displaced persons “continues to rise because of conflicts, violence and human rights violations.”
The problem is coming home to Central America, with the growing number of refugees and asylum seekers in the countries known as the Northern Triangle – Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – who pick up and leave, he said, “because of the pressure and extortion applied by criminal gangs that force people to escape even if it means migrating across borders.”
An estimated figure, he said, indicates that Central America has some 175,000 refugees and asylum seekers.
Samaniego noted that between 300,000 and 400,000 people travel through Central America yearly, mostly uprooted Central Americans, while “some 250,000 are deported annually from the United States and Mexico” and “they need protection and solidarity,” particularly in the case of unaccompanied children.
These minors, he said, constitute “a drama that we are unfortunately witnessing all around the world.”
The UNHCR official recalled that last year alone, some 75,000 unaccompanied minors were identified as refugees.
Nonetheless, “Latin America has a tradition of granting asylum and long experience in cooperating on this matter, so perhaps what must be learned from all this is that people should see the refugee problem not only as a matter for governments to deal with, but also communities, civil society and the private sector,” he said.
“The worst that can happen,” Samaniego said, “is to have a refugee excluded, doing nothing, with no chance to get a job and without access to education.”