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Central America Bi-weekly Operational Update, 1-15 December 2020

Situation Report
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Operations: Regional context

NCA countries are ranked among the most violent nations in the world, according to the National Centre for Health Statistics. Due to violence, food insecurity, impacts of climate change and limited access to social and economic development, the number of people fleeing is provessively increasing. In El Salvador, criminal gangs have taken advantage of the COVID-19 context to reorganize and increase their control over territory in the country. After the partial reactivation of the economy on 24 August, extortions have reportedly increased considerably.

In Honduras, due to the impact of recent natural disasters and the pandemic, at least two million Hondurans are now at high risk of food insecurity. Connections between food insecurity and violence is one of the main drivers for people to flee. In Guatemala, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Civil Police carried out 20 raids in different parts of the country in relation to feminicides allegedly carried out by members of the Barrio 18 gang.

Socio-economic impacts of the pandemic are disproportionately affecting people in low- and middle income, whom, in addition, suffered more severely the consequences of recent tropical storms Eta and Iota. In Honduras, 94,000 persons remain hosted in official shelters, while increasing numbers of population are turning to makeshift settlements. Authorities expect a large part of the population to continue displaced for at least the next three months, due to persistent high levels of water, landslides and as well as poor WASH, security and protection measures in communities of origin. In El Salvador, social welfare suffered a 37-year setback, with poverty levels rising from 31 to 41% of the population and the loss of 177,000 formal and informal jobs in the context of the pandemic. In Guatemala, labour informality could rise from 70% to 75%, leaving seven people out of ten without access to a formal job or social security.

In Panama, it can take up to eight years to recover the 400,000 jobs that have been lost during 2020, especially affecting young people under 30 years old and women. Furthermore, asylum seekers and refugees have increased their dependence on humanitarian assistance mainly to cover rent payments, food, and medicines. In Costa Rica, due to unemployment and lack of job opportunities, the number of refugees and asylum seekers asking for economic assistance has increased. The inquiries come mainly from households with children who are unable to fulfill their basic needs, while fear of being evicted is more frequent for those with more than two months of rent due.

In this context, a new caravan of around 400 people, including unaccompanied children, departed from San Pedro Sula to the border of Agua Caliente. UNHCR and partners monitor this situation while a contingency plan is being discussed under the umbrella of the Protection Group including UNHCR, IOM, OHCR and NRC. While this mixed movement was quickly dissolved, the dire conditions in northern Central America is likely to continue prompting people to move across borders.

Due to protection risks identified in high-risk communities,
UNHCR continues to focus on the response in main areas affected by the storms and where high protection risks have been identified. Thus, UNHCR provided supplies to temporary shelters including kitchen kits, mosquito nets, jerry cans and plastic sheeting as part of the response to help the victims of hurricanes Eta and Iota. In addition, UNHCR maintains activities to improve RSD processes and strengthen capacities to identify cases of persons at risk in Central America.