San José conference on forced displacement in Central America ends with commitments to strengthen asylum systems in the region
The High-Level Roundtable on the plight of people fleeing growing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – a region known as the Northern Triangle of Central America – concluded yesterday in San José, Costa Rica, with a series of comprehensive actions to address the various dimensions of the situation, including the provision of international protection for asylum-seekers and refugees, and protection measures in the countries of origin.
This was the first international event to focus on current forced displacement in the region. It highlighted the urgency of addressing the needs of those displaced in a more systematic way among all concerned actors. In his opening remarks, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Filippo Grandi, spoke of the importance of embracing “regional responsibility-sharing mechanisms, with concrete actions in countries of origin, transit and asylum to resolve compelling protection and solutions needs.”
The participants, who hailed from Government, international organizations and civil society, agreed on a number of responses, including:
- Ensuring access to territory and asylum and enhancing arrangements for the reception of asylum-seekers and refugees, in recognition of the growing number of people fleeing from affected Central American countries;
- Strengthening opportunities for self-reliance and local integration of refugees, including through investments of development funding;
- Enhancing regional cooperation and partnership through increased responsibility-sharing, including increased engagement by civil society organizations in key areas of activity (e.g. the running of shelters, provision of legal advice, etc.).
The number of people fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras has surged to levels not seen since armed conflicts wracked the region in the 1980s. In 2015, asylum-seekers from this region topped nearly 110,000 – a more than five-fold increase over three years – with most of them seeking safety in Mexico and the United States, as well as Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. Many people have been forcibly displaced inside their own countries. In Honduras alone, 174,000 individuals have been internally displaced in the last decade in 20 out of 292 municipalities. Among the displaced population from the region, the protection needs of unaccompanied or separated children; women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities; indigenous people and Afro-descendants; as well as individuals with disabilities, are most acute.
The meeting, co-chaired by UNHCR and the Organization of American States, is one of several key events leading up to the September Summit on ‘Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants,’ to be held during the next U.N. General Assembly, and in the World Leaders Summit on Refugees to be convened by the USA.
“We are very encouraged by the open and frank spirit in which the discussions took place and hope that the various actions announced will have a direct positive impact on the people who are affected by displacement,” concluded Volker Türk, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.
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