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Virtual briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras

Speeches and statements

Virtual briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras

20 April 2021

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

For years, countries in the region, with the support of regional cooperation mechanisms and UN partners, have worked to prevent displacement and meet the needs of people on the move.

The drivers of displacement and migration are not new. As you heard from my colleagues, multiple related factors force people to flee to protect themselves and their families, including violence and persecution, insecurity and inequality.

Still, the number of people on the move continues to rise: over one million are forcibly displaced in the region, including half a million seeking international protection, up from a mere 66,000 individuals in 2014.

Many of the underlying factors for flight are well documented. A recent report released by UNHCR and UNICEF called "Families on the Run" describes how death threats, forced recruitment, extortion and other forms of targeted violence are driving more families to flee their homes and seek safety in other countries.

Let me tell you about one family, who should move all of us to respond, and quickly. Maria was 21 when she married in January.  Within weeks, her husband was killed by a gang. She moved back with her parents, in a street controlled by another gang, who suspected her of being a spy for their rivals. The gang asked the entire family to move, Maria’s father stayed behind and was killed days later for refusing to comply.

This is just one example, but it happens every day. Children and youth are targets of violence and subject to recruitment. Girls are forced to ‘become wives’ of gang members, and sexual and gender-based violence is rampant. Gangs impose their rules on communities, and resistance only makes things worse.

There are also emerging factors that exacerbate vulnerability and accelerate mobility. Climate change is one, as natural disasters, flooding and droughts disproportionately affect the poor and insecure. Hurricanes Eta and Iota had a dramatic impact, widening inequalities and creating instability in violence-affected communities throughout the region.  

The pandemic is another, as those unable to shelter in place have absorbed more violence, especially extortion. And while border closures and restrictions temporarily blunted peoples’ ability to move in search of safety, those underlying drivers did not disappear. If anything, they worsened. As public health measures have eased, movements have increased dramatically, reaching historic levels.

Mexico registered over 22,000 asylum applications in the first quarter of 2021 alone, 77% higher than the same time a year ago. The US recorded over 173,000 apprehensions at the border, including more than 18,700 unaccompanied children in March alone.

In short, more people are on the move, and the drivers of displacement remain strong. Now is the moment for the international community to help address those root causes, offer safer protection alternatives to people fleeing and restore a sense of security to communities overwhelmed by ubiquitous violence.

To that end, the Comprehensive Regional Framework for Protection and Solutions, also called the MIRPS, offers a political and operational instrument to respond to these critical humanitarian and protection needs and support long-term solutions in the region.

It is an important mechanism for at least five reasons:

  1. To strengthen asylum and national protection systems, including programmes to protect children, address sexual and gender-based violence, and provide witness protection.
  2. In communities affected by violence, to enhance protection for those at risk of displacement with civil society partners and communities themselves playing an active role.
  3. To promote temporary protection alternatives such as internal relocation assistance and protection transfer arrangements to get people out of harm's way.
  4. To pursue local solutions (like integration programmes) because we can't extract every family at risk. Labour mobility and family reunification are key enablers to that end, and...
  5. To scale up identification and referral mechanisms with key civil society partners, especially for returnees and deportees with protection needs and people on the move north.

Humanitarian response alone will not be sufficient. We need long-term cooperation from all partners, including development actors, financial institutions and the private sector.

Linking the MIRPS with the ECLAC Comprehensive Development Plan is a big piece of the puzzle. We welcome the recent decision of the IADB to join the MIRPS support platform and thank Spain and Canada for their stewardship in recent months.

And the countries in the region themselves are at the centre of this work. We are encouraged by Guatemala’s leadership in 2021 as pro-tempore president of the MIRPS, building on progress under El Salvador’s leadership last year to coordinate, develop and implement national plans.

Finally, we welcome the US Government plan to address the root causes in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and hope that together we can help bring stability and progress to the region, keeping the protection needs of people always in our focus.

Thank you very much.