A new UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report, Women on the Run, reveals why women are fleeing violence in Central America and Mexico and the obstacles they in face in their journey to be safe.
Based upon in-depth interviews with 160 women from four countries, including 30 from Guatemala, the report documents their plight to seek sanctuary.
Endemic violence and impunity is sweeping across an area – which includes Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – known as the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA). Some parts of Mexico are also plagued with violent crime.
Every week, hundreds of men, women and children, unsafe in their own countries, are compelled to undertake the dangerous journey north.
According to the report, the NTCA is one of the most dangerous places in the world.
Statistics from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime place Honduras as first, El Salvador as fifth, and Guatemala as sixth in the global ranking of homicide rates. Femicide is also a worrying trend in the region. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras rank first, third, and seventh, respectively, for global female homicide rates.
The number of people fleeing the NTCA has increased dramatically. In 2014, tens of thousands sought asylum in the United States, and the number of women entering the states across the US-Mexican border has risen three-fold since 2013. Asylum applications have also increased in the neighbouring countries of Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.
Women are facing increased violence from armed criminal groups, including drug cartels and gangs.
The reasons women gave for fleeing their homes included being assaulted, receiving death threats, and being raped. According to the report, 85% of the women told of how they lived in communities under the control of gangs, and 64% said they had been directly threatened or attacked by members of armed criminal groups, and that this was a main reason for taking flight.
However, it is not just armed criminal groups which pose a threat. Many women are also unsafe in their own homes. Domestic violence widespread across El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and although all three countries have domestic abuse laws, it is common for local authorities and the state to do nothing to ensure a woman’s safety.
A rape survivor from Guatemala told interviewers about the constant abuse she received at the hands of her spouse:
“My husband abused me verbally and physically on a regular basis. He kept me locked in the house. I wore my hair pulled back, and sometimes he would grab my hair, shove my face near the fire, and ask ‘Are you fine here?’ Or he would hold a knife to my neck and ask the same thing. I had to respond ‘yes.’ To me, this is not a life.”
For the full report, please visit: ww.uwnhcr.org/5630f24c6.html