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Costa Rica, Panama and Other Countries Also See Influx of Unaccompanied Minors: UNHCR Says It's a 'Regional Problem'

First Posted: Jul 30, 2014 04:06 PM EDT
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Photo : John Moore/Getty Images

The United States isn't the only country dealing with an influx of undocumented Central American minors.

According to an unnamed study by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees cited by Fox News Latino, Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama saw a combined 712 percent increase in asylum applications from El Salvadorian, Guatemalan and Honduran migrants in 2013. The U.S. reportedly still has the largest influx, however, and exact numbers on the other countries are not available from the study.

Still, experts say these countries are definitely seeing an increase in unaccompanied migrant children, and the number is likely higher than studies have reported.

"This is a regional problem and one that requires a regional solution," Leslie Vélez, a senior protection officer at the UNHCR, said. "It's too big for one government to solve on its own."

Since October 2013, around 57,000 unaccompanied minors have been caught at the U.S. border, most of them reportedly fleeing violence from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some argue, however, that if the children truly have "credible fear," they should go to closer countries like Belize, Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua.

"It calls into question the call for asylum whey they're saying they came here because of the violence ... If they're seeking safety, it's a quick trip to Nicaragua," Sylvia Longmire, a retired Air Force captain and border security expert, explained. "You can't talk out both sides of your mouth and say you're just concerned about the violence ... It's totally about the economics."

Costa Rica and Panama reportedly have growing economic and political stability. Meanwhile, Nicaragua has the "second-highest level of poverty in the Western Hemisphere and a less-than-transparent government," as reported by FNL, but is still considered a good location for fleeing migrants.

"Nicaragua is poorer, but it's far less violent," Eric Olsen, associate director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Latin American program, said. "Costa Rica is a country that is so small that it depends on other Latin American labor for its own economic livelihood."

These other countries still have trouble determining whether the minors should be considered immigrants or refugees. Costa Rica and Nicaragua don't have proper laws to handle a mass of migrants.

"It's tough to define who is who because the factors can appear skewed," Jana Mason, UNHCR senior external relations advisor, explained. "In most cases it's not just the pull factors; it's not just the push factors. It's both."
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Follow Scharon Harding on Twitter: @ScharHar.

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