Central American Gang Wars Force US To Take On More Asylum Seekers

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JP Carroll National Security & Foreign Affairs Reporter
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The U.S. agreed at a United Nations-sponsored meeting on July 6 and July 7 to accept a lot more asylum seekers fleeing gang violence in Central America.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, part of the United Nations, handles much of the world’s coordinated responses to global refugee crises such as the humanitarian disaster in Syria and has now asked the U.S. to do more in Latin America. Senior officials of several countries met in Costa Rica to discuss better ways of vetting migrants to determine if they are looking for better or jobs or running away from all but certain death.

Much of the violence in Central America is concentrated in the Northern Triangle which is one of the most murderous parts of the world. The Northern Triangle consists of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Violence in the Northern Triangle region is largely responsible for the child refugee crisis at the U.S. border in the summer of 2014. To prevent future mass migration crises from the Northern Triangle, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) – part of the World Bank Group in Washington D.C. – came up with the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle.

The IADB plan is greatly dependent on U.S. largess. In December 2015, the U.S. Congress included $750 million in funding to assist Northern Triangle countries within the 2016 budget.

In 2015, El Salvador became the most murderous country on Earth according to Deutsche Welle, with someone being killed almost every hour. Neighboring Honduras and Guatemala were not far behind in murder rankings with both nations being in the top five according to The Guardian.

The region is in part suffering from years of having been plagued by gang violence. Rival gangs, MS-13 and Barrio 18, also known as the 18th Street Gang, have long battled for control of the Northern Triangle’s criminal underworld.

Despite having their cultural roots in the Northern Triangle, both MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang have ties to 1980s Los Angeles. Joining a gang was a way of finding a community for many desperate Central American migrants, mostly of Salvadoran and Honduran origin as they fled to the U.S. to escape civil war and unrest in the 1980s.

Honduras is the only country in the region which has openly acknowledged that many of its citizens are fleeing north to the likes of Mexico and the U.S. to get away from the bloodshed back home.

The Northern Triangle produced a total of 109,800 refugees and asylum seekers in 2015 according to UNHCR. 12 percent of the world’s displaced people are in the Western Hemisphere.

Countries, including the U.S., that attended the UNHCR meeting are being asked to pitch in to build a $23.5 million office in the region, managed by the international organization. The U.S. knows the problems caused by MS-13 and 18th Street Gang violence as the two gangs are highly active in the U.S.

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