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Violence fuels Central American refugee crisis: UN agency

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Washington: Women, often with children, are fleeing Central America and parts of Mexico in increasing numbers due to “alarming” levels of violence, the UN refugee agency said in a report today.

While the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Africa may be making headlines, “we are seeing another refugee situation unfolding in the Americas,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said as he issued a new report on the situation.

The report, titled “Women on the Run,” is “an early warning to raise awareness of the challenges refugee women face and a call to action to respond regionally to a looming refugee crisis,” Guterres said.

The report states that women and children in both Central America and Mexico “face alarming rates of escalating, targeted violence and persecution” from criminal gangs, “including murder, disappearance, assault, rape, and recruitment of children.”

Female police officers, women with children, and transgender women “face disproportionate levels of persecution.”

According to the report, the UN agency has recorded a nearly fivefold increase since 2008 of people reaching the United States from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras seeking asylum, “and a nearly thirteenfold increase of asylum-seekers from the same countries arriving to Mexico and other parts of Central America.”

“The most vulnerable, namely women and children, are often the first to flee violence.”

Governments often stand by helplessly. “Escalating violence from well-connected, armed, and dangerous criminal groups in the region has surpassed the governments’ capacity to respond,” the report said.

The UNHCR urged regional governments to give emergency aid to women and children, to assist in the asylum-seeking process, to avoid “unnecessary detention,” and to address the root causes of forced displacement.