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Migrant Activists Distrust Kerry’s Promise to Help Central Americans Fleeing Violence

John Kerry's plan to help people fleeing violence in Central America has not been well received by activists in the region.
Photo by Gregory Bull/AP

Migration activists say the announcement of an expansion of the US refugee program for Central Americans fleeing extreme violence in their home countries will do little to solve the humanitarian crisis in the region.

"The announcement is hypocritical," Marta Sánchez, from the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, told VICE News. "The only program that has been growing steadily is the deportation of thousands of families fleeing violence and marginalization."


On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry promised changes to make it easier for families and children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to apply for refugee status before they seek to reach the United States.

Related: El Salvador's Young People Are Killing, Dying and Running 

"I am pleased to announce that we have plans to expand the US refugee admissions program in order to help vulnerable families and individuals from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and offer them a safe and legal alternative to the dangerous journey that many are tempted to begin, making them at that instant easy prey for human smugglers who have no interest but their own profit," Kerry said.

The new program will be coordinated by the International Organization for Migration and other non-profit organizations that will be in charge of identifying which applicants are eligible for moving to the US as refugees. The US government retains the final say on all applications.

The announcement came as the latest figures showed a sharp increase in the number of Central American children and adolescents trying to cross the US border with Mexico in the last three months of 2015.

The US Department of Customs and Border Protection detained 17,370 "unaccompanied alien children" in that period, which is over double the number apprehended in the last quarter of 2014.

It also reported an 187 percent hike in the number of individuals apprehended who were traveling as part of a family unit including children, taking the total to 21,469.


Most of these children and families are fleeing extreme violence and poverty in Central America — particularly in El Salvador and Honduras.

Though it is not clear what has sparked the sudden increase of the last few months, the situation in El Salvador has become particularly acute this year in the context of a massive crackdown on warring street gangs that does not seem to be working.

According to a report published on the website InSight Crime, El Salvador has now surpassed Honduras as the most violent nation in the Western Hemisphere. There were approximately 6,650 homicides in 2015 in the tiny country, resulting in a staggering homicide rate of 103 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Migrant activists in the region say Kerry's promise to make it easier for those in danger to seek refugee status before launching into the journey only scratches the surface of the problem.

"They have been doing the same thing since 2006, we don't need more visas or new programs," said Sánchez of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement. "What we need is to solve the violence generated by gangs, bring to an end the US war on drugs, and get rid of the incompetence of local governments."

Related: The Relatives of Missing Migrants Find Joy and Pain While Searching in Mexico

Follow Alan Hernández on Twitter: @alanpasten