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Latin American children flee by the thousands

A three-year-old in El Salvador, where violence and gang warfare forced his father to flee from their home. The child's mother is afraid to go out and can't work because she fears being targeted by the gang members who were after her husband. Violence is forcing thousands of Central American children to flee their homes, overwhelming U.S. borders. Photo: ©2012 Heidi Isaza/World Vision

A three-year-old in El Salvador, where violence and gang warfare forced his father to flee from their home. The child’s mother is afraid to go out and can’t work because she fears being targeted by the gang members who were after her husband. Violence is forcing thousands of Central American children to flee their homes, overwhelming U.S. borders.
Photo: ©2012 Heidi Isaza/World Vision

World Vision is increasing efforts in the United States and Latin America to assist children caught in the growing humanitarian crisis along the US border. The U.S. government estimates that at least 60,000 unaccompanied children will be flooding into the United States this year alone – a number that is expected to double in 2015.

Most of these children come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. While poverty in these countries has always been a reason for emigration, in the last few months the number of children fleeing these countries has grown enormously. This has been largely due to increasing violence in the region.

The majority of children interviewed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicated they were forcibly displaced because of armed violence by organised actors, such as drug cartels and gangs, domestic violence, and in the case of Mexico, forced recruitment by human trafficking networks.

“At the heart of the issue are children who have an immediate need for basic necessities both in the United States and in Central America. Many of these children are literally fleeing for their lives from constant threats of gang violence and high levels of poverty in their home countries. We know both sides of the issue need to be addressed for there to be any long-term solution,” said Jesse Eaves, senior policy advisor, Child Protection – WVUS.

In the United States, World Vision is working with the churches and community partners at numerous locations to supply unaccompanied children with items such as clothing and school supplies and to engage them in activities for children. The organisation is also furnishing cleaning supplies, paper products and other materials to equip the local centres that are hosting children.

In Latin America, World Vision will be increasing its response through:

– Supporting migrating children in shelters run by partner organizations

– Working with churches and other partners to help reintegrate children that have been deported from the United States and Mexico

– Advocating with the United Nations, other partners and governments

– Strengthening engagement with communities and partners to address the root causes of this exodus, specifically violence and lack of opportunities

“We have heard unimaginable stories from many of the children we work with of friends being killed by gang violence or of they themselves being threatened if they do not join a gang. It’s these sorts of situations that leave children and families with few choices besides fleeing to surrounding countries or the United States. This is a complex issue, but one thing we do know – if we don’t address the root causes forcing children to flee in the first place, this will be a problem that only continues to grow,” said Amanda Rives, advocacy director – Latin America and Caribbean region.

World Vision is working with churches and community partners in 13 locations throughout the U.S. to provide for the immediate needs of the thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the border. Give now to the U.S. Border Crisis Relief Fund.

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