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Central America & Cuba Bi-weekly Operational Update, 1 - 31 August 2020

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Operations: Regional context

The number of people infected with COVID-19 in the region exceeded 300,000 in the past month, with an increase in new suspected and positive cases in rural departments and municipalities in Nicaragua, where indigenous communities live, including the Miskito communities Wiwilí and Bocay, and in the Coco River area. In Honduras, concern over response capacity is growing in Islas de la Bahía, Gracias a Dios, Santa Bárbara, Choluteca, Valle and El Paraíso. In Guatemala, half of the municipalities are in red alert, including in areas of UNHCR presence in Guatemala City, Esquipulas (Chiquimula), Puerto Barrios (Izabal), Ayutla (San Marcos), and Flores (Petén). In El Salvador, MSF has become the sole medical service provider in gang-dominated communities where the public health system is limited, and where medical personnel fear clashes between gangs or between gangs and security forces.

Violence and insecurity continue in the North of Central America. Increasing levels of violence, insecurity and massacres have impacted people across Honduras. So far in the year 2020, official data reports 2,020 violent deaths, while NGOs report a total of 24 massacres until August, 92% of which took place since the quarantine started in March.

In Guatemala, however the decrease in the homicide rate (from 23.3 in 2019 to 16.6 in the first six months in 2020 per 100,000 inhabitants), activities by gangs and other organized crime groups are reportedly increasing since the COVID traffic light system was put in place. Also, in El Salvador, civil society organizations report the human rights situation has worsened during 2020, for example regarding violence against women and crimes over the internet.

Violence against minority groups, including indigenous and afrodescentant communities has been reported across the region. In Guatemala, several violent events have reportedly forced 40 indigenous families off their land after an armed group set fire to several of their residences, according to the information provided by a land rights group.
In Honduras, the Afro-Indigenous Garífuna community continues to demand the safe return of five of its leaders who were kidnapped over a month ago.

Members of the LGBTI community are also vulnerable to increased violence. To 31 July, Honduras registered 16 murders of LGBTI people. In El Salvador, members of the LGBTI community continue to report discrimination and lack of effective access to basic services, thus heightening their vulnerability to internal forced displacement and extortion.
Costa Rica has become a destination country for Central American LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution from NCA.

On the other hand, more than three quarters of Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers in Costa Rica are going hungry, eating only once or twice a day as a result of the socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey. There is concern that these conditions, also worsening in other Nicaraguan refugee-hosting countries, could drive returns in adverse conditions.

In collaboration with local authorities in Guatemala, Panama, and Honduras, UNHCR has installed RHUs in municipalities mostly affected by the pandemic to support testing and quarantine efforts. UNHCR and partners held a capacitybuilding sessions to ensure successful referral and registration of cases, including psychological self-care sessions. Efforts are being made to reinforce protection networks for teachers at risk of displacement and build capacity among national authorities to provide assistance to new cases, including cases of forced displacement, recruitment, extortion, death threats and SGBV. And UNHCR continues to deliver cash assistance to highly vulnerable people.
The MIRPS national technical teams undertook a review to identify current needs in strengthening their national asylum systems with the support of the UNHCR-OAS Technical Secretariat. MIRPS countries have identified specific areas in need of bilateral cooperation which are presented to MIRPS Support Platform Presidency. The most common request among the countries was the exchange of experiences on the integration of technology for RSD, which is particularly relevant in the COVID-19 context, when offices provide their services via internet and helplines.