Last week, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) released a haunting report about the current women's refugee crisis in Central America and Mexico. The report is “based on in-depth, individual interviews conducted by UNHCR from June to August 2015 with 160 women. The women ranged in age from 18 to 57. 63 women were from El Salvador, 30 from Guatemala, 30 from Honduras, and 37 from Mexico.”
The outcomes are horrifying, and the women reveal their personal accounts of sexual violence, brutal beatings, and countless threats. On October 28th, when the report was released, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said, “We are seeing another refugee situation unfolding in the Americas. This report is an early warning to raise awareness of the challenges refugee women face and a call to action to respond regionally to a looming refugee crisis.”
These ten quotes depict the hideous conditions these refugees and their children are trying to escape.
1. “I made a criminal complaint against the police officials who raped and beat me, and I am afraid they will kill me…They kill trans women often. I had many friends who were murdered.” Anonymous transgender woman, El Salvador
Trans women are even more likely to be threatened, assaulted, and killed in their home countries, as well as on their journey to the United States, by everyone from narcos to law enforcement.
2. “I was raped and assaulted many times by the police – at least an average of two times per week or more.” – Anonymous
Mistrust in law enforcement is a major obstacle in finding protection in their home countries, and a major reason that women choose to flee.
3. “In Tijuana, the police raped and beat me. [Then] the police told me if they saw me again in the city they would kill me…They were afraid that I would say something.” – Laura, Mexico
4. “I had to quit every job I ever had because of the risks encountered. I found work after my friend was murdered at a restaurant, but they fired me after three people came to look for me and kill me. The owner said it was too dangerous for him, his workers and the clients to have me there as a result. He was correct, but it didn’t help me.” – Anonymous transgender woman, Honduras
With constant threats of abuse and murder, it’s impossible for many women, especially trans women, to have any reliable source of income, and therefore independence.
5. “[A] narco and his father began threatening my daughter and me. They are narcos, but are affiliated with [a criminal group]. They thought that I had denounced them to the police after they killed my son-in-law, even though that was not true....They threatened us multiple times. They would drive by slowly, armed with guns. They also killed a cat and a dog and left them dismembered in front of our house.” – Sandra, El Salvador
For most women, narcos are the greatest threat to their safety in their hometowns.
6. “In the middle of the night, I felt like water was falling on me. I woke up and he was urinating on my face and body.” – Anonymous, Honduras
Aside from gangs and drug cartels, women often fear their own abusive partners and the fathers of their children.
7. “He has so much anger and so much hurt. This scares me. I really think he’ll kill me now. He’s so violent.” – Anonymous, El Salvador
8. “He was smart. He did not hit me in a way that left bruises, so there was not evidence for others to see.” – Anonymous
9. “You will only get yourself into problems if you keep it up.” – Mexican authorities
Natalia’s partner was kidnapped by men wearing masks, who drove off in a federal police vehicle. Eventually, after trying to find her partner, she was told to stop trying, and threatened by powerful criminal cartel. Natalia fled to the US. Her partner has yet to be found.
10. “Everything affects you because there, a woman is worthless.” – Anonymous
In the report's conclusion, the goals are clear: “to hear from the women themselves the reasons they fled their countries of origin and the challenges they encountered while seeking protection. The women’s voices provide the foundation for the ultimate aim of the study: to document profiles of women from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico with a need for international protection, and provide policy makers and adjudicators with necessary information to bolster regional asylum for women.”
See the website, womenonthe.run, for detailed stories, statistics and facts, and ways you can get involved.
Photos via Facebook/ United Nations High Commission for Refugees and YouTube
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