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The role of Honduras,Guatemala and El Salvador in the deepening refugee crisis and a case history documented in Amnesty International’s Central American refugee report
Case history documented in Amnesty International Central American refugee report

Janette, aged 15, lives in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. In

2013, when she was 13-years-old, she reported to school authorities that two girls in her class were

bullying her. The girls took their revenge by having their boyfriends, gang members, rape her on school

property. Janette became pregnant by the attack, but ultimately miscarried six months into the term.

Janette and her mother fled and lived with relatives in several other parts of the city and country, but

when they returned to her neighbourhood, one of the attackers continued to harass Janette. She and her

mother attempted to seek asylum in Mexico, but when they were told they would be detained for two

months before a decision was reached, they returned instead to Honduras.

Janette did not file a report with the Honduran police about her attack out of fear and distrust.

Immigration authorities did not seem particularly interested in her testimony when she returned from

Mexico either, she said, but put her in touch with the NGO Casa Alianza.

Janette has not been able to return to school, and instead is taking classes in cooking and beauty with

Casa Alianza. But in interviews in March and July 2016, she described to Amnesty International an

escalating pattern of harassment by one of her attackers. On one occasion, he entered her home when she

was alone and harassed her until a friend arrived and chased him away. Janette beamed as she described

her vision of the future – a high school graduate with a degree in cooking and her own salon. But she

acknowledged that to truly be safe she might have to flee the country again: “I never have liked to be far

from my country. I was born here; I will die here. But if the circumstances are such that I have to go, I’m

going to go.”

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Extract from the Amnesty International refugee report: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have become virtual war zones where lives seem to be expendable and millions live in constant terror at what gang members or public security forces can do to them or their loved ones. These millions are now the protagonists in one of the world’s least visible refugee crises ( Salil Shetty, Secretary General at Amnesty International ) To read the full report

Millions of Central Americans are falling through the cracks, victims of countries that do not fulfil their responsibility to provide the international protection they need, and of their own governments’ utter inability and unwillingness to keep them safe from the most tragic end.


Despite the changing context and new factors, poverty and social exclusion continue to be important push factors
for migration. While poverty rates have improved in some countries in Latin America in the past decades, the
changes in Central America have been less visible than in some countries in South America, and the number of
people in the Northern Triangle living on less than they need to survive is still worryingly high.
Guatemala stands out for its growing levels of poverty, which have in fact been backsliding in recent years.
According to the World Bank, 59.3% of Guatemalans were living below the poverty line in 2014, which is
defined as an income that is insufficient to purchase a basic basket of goods and services.3 The United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP) found that Guatemala was the only country in the region where levels of
poverty actually increased over the 2003-2013 period,4 for the equivalent of around three million people, and
whose middle class shrunk.5 Economic and social exclusion continue to be dominating factors for migration in
Guatemala, particularly for children. In particular, local analysts and civil society organizations cite what they call
“structural violence” as a source of migration, in reference to the long-lasting discrimination against and social
and economic exclusion of the region’s biggest indigenous population
The pervasiveness of the violence in the Northern Triangle countries affects all of society, but it affects people
differently according to their gender identity and/or their sexual orientation. While the vast majority of murder
victims are young men, women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are also
subjected to differentiated forms of violence.
Though most of the countries of Central America have enacted specific legislation to protect the rights of
women as instructed by the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of
Violence Against Women, and by the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Amnesty
International research shows that in practice, women in the Northern Triangle countries are routinely subjected to
violence and the duty to investigate is routinely flouted.
In Honduras, the female murder rate jumped by 37% between 2008 and 2015, while in El Salvador it rose by
60% during the same period.18 According to one global study, a minority of these killings were committed by
intimate partners in the private sphere.19 It is important to highlight that targeted violence against women and
gender-based violence whether by an intimate partner or by gangs is potential grounds for international protection.
The climate of violence affects women in specific and different ways. Honduras reported 2,619 forensic medical
exams for sexual assault against women and 2,808 exams for aggression against women20 in 2015.21 These
figures were up from 2,195 exams for sexual assault against women and 2,301 exams for aggression in 2014.22
Sexual assault and aggression against women combined represented 31.6% and 35.4% of any kind of forensic
medical examination conducted in the respective years.23 But attacks are widely underreported, and many
analysts believe the numbers to be far higher. The judicial branch in Honduras reported 788 rape cases in 2015.24
Sexual violence against women and girls by gang members in El Salvador has been reported by the press and
civil society organizations, and there is great need for comprehensive studies on this alarming social problem.25
One of the issues faced in relation to data is that none of the Northern Triangle governments have specific
mechanisms to collect data during criminal investigations to disaggregate statistics related to the killing of
women and LGBTI people as a result of their gender identity and/or their sexual orientation. The information
provided by local NGOs is also often not explicitly clear on whether the motive of the killings was based on
gender and/or sexual orientation. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has not
issued concluding remarks on any of the 3 countries in recent years.
Yet women and girls themselves have reported being targeted with gender-specific violence. According to
UNHCR’s report Women on the Run, 64% of the 160 women from El Salvador, Guatemala Honduras and Mexico
interviewed and seeking asylum in the United States described:
Being targets of direct threats and attacks by members of criminal armed groups as at least one of
the primary reasons for their flight… the women consistently stated that police and other state law
enforcement authorities were not able to provide sufficient protection from the violence. More than
two-thirds tried to find safety by fleeing elsewhere in their own country, but said this did not ultimately
help. Sixty per cent of the women interviewed reported attacks, sexual assaults, rapes, or threats to
the police or other authorities. All of those women said that they received inadequate protection or no
protection at all. Forty per cent of the women interviewed for this study did not report harm to the police;
they viewed the process of reporting to the authorities as futile


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