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U.N. Urges U.S. To Treat Migrants As Refugees

People who enter the U.S. and nearby countries illegally from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras should not be forced to return home and should be treated as refugees, a U.N. agency says. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says people from those countries are subject to persecution.

From Geneva, Lisa Schlein reports for our Newscast unit:

"The United States isn't the only country being flooded by migrants from Central America. U.N. refugee spokesman Adrian Edwards says the number of people fleeing to Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and other countries in search of asylum has increased by more than 700 percent since 2008.

" 'They are fleeing an environment of transnational organized crime and other problems there, and we believe that amongst that there are people who will be in need of international protection,' Edwards says.

"The refugee agency is particularly concerned about the large number of unaccompanied children arriving in the U.S. Washington estimates more than 90,000 unaccompanied children will arrive by the end of September."

The AP reports that of the 52,000 unaccompanied children who have been taken into custody by U.S. border agents since October, about 75 percent are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

"Even in a region accustomed to immigrant surges, no one has seen anything like this before," NPR's John Burnett reported from the Rio Grande area of Texas last month.

As NPR's Carrie Kahn reported last week, the Obama administration has struggled to discourage would-be migrants from attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally. Carrie talked to several people in Guatemala who said that conditions in their country — especially the economic prospects for its children — were enough to make them move north.

The call from the U.N. echoes statements made in the spring, when the refugee agency released "Children on the Run," a report that cited interviews with migrant children who had crossed international borders to flee violence.

This week, the U.S. and its neighbors will hold meetings in Nicaragua to discuss "updating a 30-year-old declaration regarding the obligations nations have to aid refugees," the AP says.

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