United Nations officials are pushing for many of the Central Americans fleeing to the U.S. to be treated as refugees displaced by armed conflict, a designation meant to increase pressure on the United States to accept tens of thousands of people currently ineligible for asylum.
Officials with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees say they hope to see a regional agreement on that status Thursday when migration and interior department representatives from the U.S., Mexico, and Central America meet in Nicaragua. The group will discuss updating a 30-year-old declaration regarding the obligations nations have to aid refugees.
While such a resolution would lack any legal weight in the United States, the agency said it believes “the U.S. and Mexico should recognize that this is a refugee situation, which implies that they shouldn’t be automatically sent to their home countries but rather receive international protection.”
Central Americans would be among the first modern migrants considered refugees because they are fleeing violence and extortion at the hands of criminal gangs.“Unaccompanied children and families who fear for their lives and freedoms must not be forcibly returned without access to proper asylum procedures,” UNHCR official Leslie Velez said in testimony submitted to the House Judiciary Committee late last month.
Immigration experts in the U.S. and Central America say the flow of migrants from Honduras and El Salvador is likely to rise as the two countries experience gang-related violence. Honduras, a primary transit point for U.S.-bound cocaine, has the world’s highest homicide rate for a nation that is not at war.
Salvadorans heading north through Mexico who were interviewed by The Associated Press last month said there also was fear of the “Sombra Negra,” or “Black Shadow” – groups of masked men in civilian clothes who are believed responsible for extrajudicial killings of teens in gang-controlled neighborhoods. The Salvadoran government denies any involvement in death squads, but says it is investigating the reports.