Women turned away from U.S., Mexico face particularly perilous trip home

A woman cooking on Valle De Angeles, Honduras, one of the 'Northern Triangle' countries of Central America. (Nan Palmero/Flickr)

As an increasing number of migrant women from Central America’s ‘Northern Triangle’ – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – are deported from the U.S. and Mexico, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) recommends that governments make a better effort to consider gender in their repatriation processes.

Apprehension rates at the U.S. border indicate that the number of men, women and families fleeing the Northern Triangle this year has not abated. Women constitute a rising percentage of these migrants, which, combined with stricter Mexico and U.S. border policies, has led to an increase in deportations of women.

Last year, Mexico extradited 36,568 women from the Northern Triangle, compared to 7,081 in 2012, according to a report released last week from the IOM. The U.S. deported 9,858 women from the Northern Triangle last year, compared to 6,749 in 2012.

Many of these women have been fleeing physical, social and economic violence in their home countries, which have some of the highest rates of homicide and femicide in the world. In El Salvador alone, the number of femicides increased 140 percent during the first third of 2016 compared to the same period last year.

The route is often perilous, particularly for women and minors. Humanitarian groups have repeatedly denounced sexual harassment, rape and other acts of gender-based violence against women passing through Mexico, and the IOM’s study finds that for every 10 migrant women, between six and seven are raped on the way. Women are also easier targets for human trafficking, kidnapping, extortion and other risks.

A recent study by Doctors Without Borders found that Central American migrants suffer from record levels of mental health problems upon reaching their destinations.

Many of these women are deported, and they return to their home countries in worse shape, human rights advocates said. The process of fleeing, suffering assault on that journey and returning home is isolating and dangerous, the advocates said. It is critical for the Northern Triangle to implement new measures to aid the reintegration of female returnees, according to Jorge Peraza, the manager of the IOM mission in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

For years, the migration of Central American women was attributed to the desire to join their romantic partners in North America, Peraza said, but more women now undertake the perilous journey as a solution of “empowerment” that allows them to escape violence and discrimination.

The IOM’s study confirmed that repatriation processes in the Northern Triangle lack mechanisms to define how many women were victims of violence along the migration route, and fail to track, assist or support those women who tried to flee situations of domestic abuse and are forced to return home.

The study also found that women head more than 30 percent of households in Central America and play a key role in the region’s social and economic development.

Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador produce the greatest number of migrants to the United States and Mexico. Nearly 3.2 million Central American migrants live in the United States, according to the IOM, and more than half are women.

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About Author

Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com

  • Jonathan Scanlon

    Is there a link for the IOM study?

    • Tiffany Smith-Fleischman

      There is one now.