."At a special meeting in New York this week, Mr Turnbull announced Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake would be set permanently at 19,000 per year. That number will now include refugees from the Northern Triangle."
The real reason Australia has been forced to intervene in Central America’s deadly Northern Triangle
September 22, 20162:02pm
MEET ‘Psycho’, a 23-year-old from Guatemala whose colleagues are responsible for committing heinous crimes.
According to experts, the Barrio 18 gang to which he belong rules large parts of Central America’s Northern Triangle, a region made up of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
They are known for their violent approach, one that involves the kidnapping, rape and murder of children.
They take girls as young as 11 as their “girlfriends”, a generous, misleading description for what is essentially a sex slave. They control entire towns, extorting money from locals in exchange for protection.
They are easily recognised by their face tattoos but in recent years have adopted a more subtle branding. The change was necessitated by a crackdown on organised crime that saw the heavily-tattooed killed, locked up or forced into hiding.
Psycho is doing time in prison but his friends still rule large swathes of land. Fearing for their lives, Central Americans are fleeing in larger numbers than ever before.
According to the UNHCR, the number of Central Americans entering Mexico has more than quadrupled in the last four years.
That huge movement of people will soon impact Australia. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull committed earlier this week to taking refugees from the Northern Triangle for the first time.
This is what they’re running from.
HIGHEST HOMICIDE RATE IN THE WORLD
They trade in drugs, firearms and fear. Human trafficking is a big part of their operations. According to experts, the Northern Triangle is home to the highest homicide rates worldwide.
A spokeswoman for UNHCR in Mexico, a popular migration route for those leaving their lives behind in Central America and pushing towards the US border, told news.com.au there are a number of reasons people flee.
“Recent years have seen a sharp escalation in the number of people fleeing persecution and insecurity in the Northern Triangle of Central America.
“This is largely the result of growing levels of violence caused by non-state actors, many linked to criminal activity (mainly maras, pandillas and drug cartels), in addition to economic hardship.”
She said the threat of violence in consistent but often one action forces families to pack up and make a run for the border.
“Children and youth are particularly affected as they escape forced recruitment and situations of extreme insecurity. Women are also increasingly targeted and unable to find adequate protection, often suffering multiple traumas, including sexual and gender-based violence,”
She said children are being recruited at schools at 11, 12 and 13 years old and girls are basically forced to become sexual partners, or “girlfriends”
In 2011, 25 per cent of migrants were from Central America, now it’s up to 95 per cent.
“In 2014 and 2015, tens of thousands of women, men and children from the Northern Triangle sought asylum in the United States, while thousands more have fled to Mexico, Canada, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.”
HOMICIDE RATES SIX TIMES HIGHER THAN NORTH AMERICA
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports homicide rates in Central America are “four to six times higher” than those in North America.
In the US, five people were murdered for every 100,000 in 2010. At the same time in Central America, almost 30 people were murdered for every 100,000, more than anywhere else in the world.
El Salvador and Honduras reported the two highest homicide rates between 2009-2011 and, according to the Wilson Center — an independent research organisation — Guatemala is “always above the broader, regional average”.
In 2012, numbers skyrocketed in Honduras. For every 100,000 people there were 90.4 homicides, up from 46.6 in 2005. El Salvador (41.2) and Guatemala (39.9) were also in the top four. Belize (44.7) was second.
The UNHCR reported violence in the Northern Triangle affected “mostly the weakest”. José Francisco Sieber, the head of UNHCR’s protection unit in Mexico, said in 2014 that unaccompanied minors were most vulnerable.
“In the face of attempts by criminal actors to forcibly recruit them — different forms of exploitation, kidnapping, murder or sexual violence, in particular against girls — Central American children flee or are told to flee to escape and find safety abroad,” he said.
GANG NUMBERS UPWARDS OF 85,000
The numbers are astonishing. The US State Department estimated in 2012 that gangs operating inside the Northern Triangle boasted numbers above 85,000.
They are financed, according to UNHCR, by the people they force to pay bribes.
“Everyone has to pay for the gangs,” a spokeswoman told news.com.au.
Thomas Adams from the United States Studies Centre told Fairfax the gangs control entire communities.
“There are stories of taxi drivers having to hand over 80 per cent of their income or they’ll just be killed,” he said.
“You see everything from localised extortion to sophisticated protection rackets and up to high-level government corruption.”
The United States has joined the fight to help one of its closest neighbours and leaders of Central American nations have established the “Elite Security Group” to crack down on crime.
At a special meeting in New York this week, Mr Turnbull announced Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake would be set permanently at 19,000 per year. That number will now include refugees from the Northern Triangle.
The plan includes resettling those temporarily housed at a centre being set up in Costa Rica. Refugee advocates say the announcement is short on detail.
Amnesty International Australia refugee campaigner Ming Yu Hah told AAP there were a number of questions to be answered.
“The first question is what is the purpose of the program and will it provide protection to more people who urgently need it or is it a way for the US to put to the sideline people they could be helping themselves,” she said.
“It’s great Australia is being part of a multilateral program but only if it’s beneficial in terms of providing refugee protection.”
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