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Washington, DC -- International relief and development organization Oxfam America calls on the US government to ensure people fleeing severe insecurity and violence in Central America have access to legal process and protection.
“If people are fleeing for their lives, don’t send them back - protect them. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the basic principle that the US government espouses during displacement crises worldwide,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “There are more civilians killed in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador on an annual basis than in most of the world’s conflicts today, and the flight from this violence is testing our country’s willingness to practice what we preach.”
Oxfam has carried out development and humanitarian programs in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador for more than three decades and our staff have witnessed not only the negative impacts of extreme poverty, but also the horrific impacts of the extensive violence perpetrated by armed groups, gangs, traffickers, and some government officials in these countries. Young people are especially vulnerable; they face human trafficking and sexual violence and are routinely abducted or coerced into carrying out surveillance or informing for armed groups. In recent years, studies show that 95% of homicides in these countries have gone unpunished. The situation qualifies as an epidemic of violence, according to World Health Organization standards.
“We can’t send people home until we fully understand why they’ve fled. While the US is entitled to regulate entry through its borders, expediting the deportation process without proper vetting procedures in place could send thousands of people who are seeking safety right back into the hornet’s nest,” warned Offenheiser. “We owe them a fair hearing to determine what kind of threats they face in their home countries.”
A recent study by the UN Refugee Agency estimated that nearly 60 percent of the recently arrived unaccompanied children were forcibly displaced due to insecurity. Many of these children and families – including some of those forcibly displaced – are also motivated by the promise of economic opportunity or reuniting with family members. Although some Central American children and families will not be entitled to legally remain in the US, many could be, on grounds including well-founded fear of persecution, torture, and human trafficking.
“US policy must be guided by international refugee law and the humanitarian imperative,” said Offenheiser. “Other countries, many of them quite poor, have found ways to accommodate millions of women, men and children fleeing violence. One of the richest countries on Earth should be able to match that level of commitment.”