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PRESS RELEASE | IRC: Rising violence in the last year can intensify humanitarian crises in Latin America

International Rescue Committee | New York | March 3, 2022

As violence and conflict continue to escalate around the world, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warns about high numbers of homicides and violence in Latin American countries.

After a recent report by Insight Crime, the IRC alerts that the increase in violence—and particularly in homicides—in Latin America could not only worsen pre-existing humanitarian crises, but force hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in the near future.

Meghan Lopez, Regional Vice President for Latin America at the IRC, said:

“Following some of the longest lockdowns globally, much of Latin America is facing weakened economies, inequity, decreased law enforcement capabilities, an uptick in organized crime and a group of youth with few legitimate prospects primed for recruitment by non-state armed groups. The confluence of these factors has led to homicides and violence peaking across the region, including in countries where the IRC operates. Violence on the streets is concerning, but we also need to remember that it extends from the streets to the homes: ever since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen the reports of gender-based violence and femicides rise significantly.

“Conflict is one of the many drivers of displacement–in 2020 alone, it was the reason why at least 237,000 people fled from all over the region. Protection systems and mechanisms must be put in place and enforced in these countries (many of which are experiencing humanitarian crises) as part of comprehensive response, always with support from the international community.”

Among the top ten countries in the homicide rates report, the IRC has spotted a contrasting reality. Venezuela and Honduras are included, which had been identified in the IRC’s 2022 Emergency Watchlist as two in Latin America and the Caribbean among those worldwide most at risk of deteriorating humanitarian crises over the year ahead. At the same time, Colombia and Mexico—which have seen an uptick in the number of asylum seekers trying to find safety within their borders—are included in concerning positions. El Salvador, whose population has been affected by increasing control by non-state armed groups for years, closed the list in tenth position.

  • Venezuela. Although homicides have decreased, the country still has the highest murder rate in continental Latin America, with 40.9 murders per 100,000 people. According to the IRC’s Emergency Watchlist, as clashes between national forces and Colombian criminal groups increase in border regions, violence remains one of the main risks for Venezuelans, along with the effects of COVID-19 and economic meltdown.
  • Honduras. The country holds the third position in homicide rates, with 38.6 per 100,000 people. This is considered the deadliest place in Central America, with massacres (defined as three or more people being killed in the same incident) occurring roughly once per week and generally fueled by gang disputes. In Honduras, the Emergency Watchlist also highlights that violence has extended from the streets to the homes, with gender-based violence increasing since the beginning of the pandemic—between January and August 2020 alone, 163 femicides were reported.
  • Colombia. A country that for years has become a safe haven for over 1.8 million Venezuelans, saw the numbers of homicides reach a seven-year high. In 2020, the homicide rate was 26.8 per 100,000 people, with the killings being seen in the main cities but also in areas near the border with Venezuela.
  • Mexico. Ranked just below Colombia, in the 7th position, the country saw homicide rates of 20 per 100,000 people, with a large majority being related to organized crime and drug trade. Kidnapping and extortion have been also on the rise in a country that has been perceived as a possibly safe destination for thousands of asylum seekers from all over the world. Just in 2021, over 131,000 people requested asylum in the country, many arriving from countries included in this list, like Honduras, Venezuela or El Salvador.
  • El Salvador. While the number of killings declined, homicide rates continued to be high, with 17.6 per 100,000 people. Beyond homicides, unresolved disappearances jumped in 2021, in a country where control exerted by non-state armed groups is one of the many drivers of displacement.

The IRC in Latin America

The IRC is responding across the arc of the crisis in Latin America: delivering a population-based response to the Venezuela crisis in Colombia, Ecuador and through local partners in Venezuela; supporting vulnerable people in northern Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) and along the main migration corridors in Mexico, from the southern to the northern borders.

Currently, the IRC’s programming includes supporting women’s protection and empowerment, including prevention and protection of women, girls and members of the LGBTQ+ community who have been survivors of gender-based violence; economic recovery and development; primary, sexual and reproductive health; mental health and psychosocial support; cultural orientation; and access to critical information through InfoPa’lante in Colombia, CuéntaNos in northern Central America and InfoDigna in Mexico, all of them part of the Global Signpost project.

Additionally, after the earthquake that hit Haiti in August 2021, IRC provided funding to support the work of FOSREF, FADHRIS and Kay Fanm, local organizations implementing activities to satisfy priority needs.