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Children on the Run

Children on the Run

Unaccompanied Minors: Humanitarian Situation at US Border

UNHCR says children leaving Central America are doing so for varied reasons, including violence and persecution, and expresses concern for children who may face harm if returned home. UNHCR says children fleeing violence should be able to tell their stories and have continued access to asylum procedures in the United States.

Rima Al-Sabah
Philanthropist Sheikha Rima al-Sabah, former journalist and wife of Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States Sheikh Salem al-Sabah, was appointed as UNHCR's National Goodwill Ambassador in the U.S. in January 2015.


As crime and violence have increased dramatically in Mexico and Central America in recent years, UNHCR has tracked a notable increase in the number of asylum-seekers—both children and adults—particularly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala lodging claims in the region. While the United States is receiving the majority of the new asylum claims, UNHCR has documented a 1,185% increase in the number of asylum applications from citizens of these three countries in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize, combined, from 2008 to 2014.

Among these numbers is a troubling new trend. The number of children from these countries, making the treacherous journey alone and unaccompanied, has doubled each year since 2011, and the U.S. government estimated—and is on track to reach—60,000 children arriving to U.S. soil seeking safe haven in this fiscal year. While the number of children from Mexico has far outpaced the number of children from any one of the three Central American countries, most of these children are promptly returned to Mexico after no more than a day or two in the custody of the US authorities making it even more difficult to obtain a full picture of who these children are and why they are coming to the U.S.

My grandmother is the one who told me to leave. She said: “If you don’t join, the gang will shoot you. If you do, the rival gang or the cops will shoot you. But if you leave, no one will shoot you.”

Kevin, Honduras, Age 17

UNHCR’s latest report, Children on the Run, unveils the humanitarian impact of the situation by analyzing the reasons that 404 unaccompanied children gave to a team of researchers for why they left their homes and makes recommendations for a way forward.

Children on the Run: An Analysis of First-Hand Accounts from Children Fleeing Central America