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U.S. Sees Steep Rise in Asylum Claims From Latin America

In the few minutes it takes you to read this article, about a hundred people will have had to leave their homes, their belongings and everything they know and flee to avoid being murdered, kidnapped, beaten or violently assaulted. Last year, 10.3 million people were displaced around the world because of conflict or persecution, according to the recently published United Nations Refugee Agency’s annual report. Half of them were children.

Jessica Rodriguez, Jennifer Lujan, Jocelynn Lujan
Jessica Rodriguez, left, with her daughters, Jennifer, 8, center and Jocelynn, 6, attend a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, where activists denounced President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration. Russell Contreras / AP

Due to the severe consequences (5.5 million refugees) and public notoriety of its conflict, Syria overshadows other crises that have forced millions of other people to leave their home countries. But some of the most serious ones refugee situations affect Mexico, Venezuela, Guatemala or El Salvador. The United States has seen a 50 percent increase in applications in just the last year.

“The number of people fleeing violence in the North of Central America increased to levels not seen since the 1980s,” stated the UN report. “And the United States remained the main country receiving asylum applications.”

El Salvador became the most common country of origin after claims doubled from 18,900 to 33,600, ahead of Mexico (from 19,300 to 27,900), Honduras (from 14,300 to 19,500) and Venezuela (18,300).

“Violence and persecution generated by organized crime, gang-related violence, and drug cartels are likely to be the primary cause behind the increasing numbers of asylum-seekers from Central America seeking international protection in the United States,” says the report. Venezuela’s political and humanitarian crisis likely explains why this country was mentioned for the first time in years as having one with the highest number of asylum seekers.

The report states that most refugees usually remain in the immediately neighboring countries (when it comes to Syria, Turkey and Lebanon), which usually don’t have enough resources to accommodate them. The solution in these cases is voluntary repatriation when possible (over 380,000 returned to Pakistan last year) or resettlement in countries that can provide legal and physical protection.

The number of refugees admitted to resettlement in 2016 rose sharply, from 107,000 to 189,000 people. Most of them ended up in the United States (97,000), Canada (47,000) or Australia (28,000). But asylum claims were far more numerous – 2.8 million people sought international protection in 2016, mainly in Germany (722,000) and the United States (262,000, an increase of 52 percent over the previous year and more than double the applications received in 2014).

This was originally published in Noticias Telemundo.

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