The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, is calling on the United States and other nations to end COVID-19 border restrictions that keep Central American refugees from seeking asylum.
Forced displacement within Central America and Mexico has been soaring over the last five years. The United Nations refugee agency says factors, including chronic violence and insecurity, climate change and natural disasters have forced people to flee their homes in growing numbers.
UNHCR spokeswoman Aikaterini Kitidi told VOA the effects of COVID-19 and Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which struck the region with devastating force last year, have triggered further large-scale displacement.
In particular, she said these disasters have created great economic hardship for women and children who have lost their source of income and have difficulty obtaining basic services.
“As a result, such people are forcibly displaced, and they are compelled many times to embark to even further dangerous onward journeys. What they are exposed to are smugglers, traffickers, and to other risks like, for example, sexual exploitation, abuse, or even murder,” she said.
Kitidi said a staggering 1 million people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have been forced to flee their homes, creating an unprecedented displacement crisis in the region.
Due to public health COVID-19 travel restrictions, she said Central American refugees face extreme difficulties in obtaining protections they need in countries of asylum. She said the UNHCR has appealed to the U.S. government to end the Title 42 public health-related asylum restrictions.
“Under which we see the ports of entry to the United States remaining closed to most asylum seekers with exemptions for some categories of populations with vulnerabilities. And we have asked for the expulsions that are occurring of these people to stop and for the right to claim asylum in the United States to be restored,” she said.
Kitidi said all countries in the region have agreed to share the responsibility to provide protection for those fleeing danger and persecution. She added that discussions are continuing with regional authorities in the hopes they will live up to their agreement.