The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) recently released a report detailing the treacherous plight of children fleeing their homes in Central America, forced out by violence, abuse, and insecurity.
The report, “Children on the Run,” captures the crisis through interviews with more than 400 children who fled their home countries alone. It dispels the often held misconception that children choose to come to the United States mainly to reunite with their family. In fact, the report emphasizes, instability in the region and abuse in communities pushes children from their homes.
Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR regional representative in the United States, describes how children are escaping “armed actors, generalized and targeted violence in their communities and abuse in their homes.” The story of one 17-year-old boy who fled Honduras reflects Pitterman’s statement. He says:
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 will shoot you, or the cops. But if you leave, no one will shoot you.’
The boy’s story is not unlike the thousands that LIRS has seen for years. Kimberly Haynes, LIRS Director for Children’s Services states:
Given the horrific stories we have been hearing from youth, the UNHCR’s report comes with a great sense of appreciation and heightened understanding. It underscores that these children are in fact fleeing abuse, violence and failed states that are no longer able to protect their citizens.
LIRS works to provide protection, support, and reunification of children with their families. In 2013, LIRS and partners placed 2,250 vulnerable children in loving homes. The long term safety and well-being of children is at the core of our work. To ensure their lasting safety, in the upcoming months, LIRS will hold a series of round-tables to examine the care practices around arriving children and their families within the United States.
We call on the government to ensure that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has robust resources to serve children when they arrive in the United States. Visit the LIRS Action Center to encourage the government to support funding for migrants and refugees. To see what the President’s budget means for migrants and refugees, click here.