The number of asylum seekers from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in the United States shot up 410 percent between 2010 and 2014, drawing attention to the relationship between growing violence in Central America and the critical number of migrants heading to the US border.
Statistics from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) show that requests for asylum in the United States by displaced people from the Northern Triangle region (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala) rose from 8,052 in 2010 to 41,124 in 2014.
The first eight months of 2015 alone saw over 107,000 Central Americans deported from Mexico, while 46,000 more were deported from the United States, according to the UNHCR.
The UNHCR attributed the displacement to alarming rates of homicide, extortion, kidnapping and armed theft, as well as the recruitment of children by gangs.
One woman from El Salvador decided to leave the country along with 14 family members after her teenage daughter started receiving threats from a local gang. "We couldn't go to another neighbourhood because if they saw us in a place controlled by other gangs they would kill us," she told UNHCR. "And if you don't pay the extortion fees, they kill you as well. There's no way out."
InSight Crime Analysis
The Central American exodus has been paralleled by a significant rise in murder rates in the Northern Triangle. Since 2010, Honduras has been the most violent country in the world not at war. Gang violence has also caused homicide levels to rise in neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador.
While gangs are a significant contributor to violence in the Northern Triangle, their impact on security goes beyond simply driving up murder rates. A recent field investigation by InSight Crime found that most gangs in Honduras rely on extortion of local businesses and shop owners as their primary source of revenue.
SEE ALSO: Special Report: Gangs in Honduras
In El Salvador, the murder rate has spiraled out of control over the past year, reaching levels unseen since the brutal civil war that ended in 1992. Government data suggests that gangs could be responsible for two out of every three murders in the country, although police statistics seem to contradict those figures.
As the UNHCR notes, children are gravely affected by gang violence. The amount of unaccompanied minors heading north reached critical levels in 2014, with tens of thousands trying to find their way into the United States from Central America.