San Jose de los Hornos, Mexico following displacement

Researchers from the International Center for Migrant Human Rights (CIDEHUM) say that organized crime and violence have overtaken armed conflict as the main causes of displacement in Central America.

According to CIDEHUM, while there has always been high migration from Central America due to economic reasons, now many people are leaving to flee violence and forcible recruitment by criminal gangs.

The hardest hit area is in the region known as the "northern triangle" of Central America, which includes Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

In an interview with the EFE, the CIDEHUM Director Gabriela Rodriguez compared the displacement happening now to that which occurred in the 70s and 80s as a result of civil war in the region, although today's victims are less visible and thus more vulnerable.

Rodriguez also stated that some migrants who are deported back to their country of origin after reaching the United States or other Central American countries say that returning home is a "death sentence" for them.

InSight Crime Analysis

The CIDEHUM found that in 2011 there were 5.6 million Latin Americans living in displacement, mostly in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru. Forced displacement due to armed conflict has a long history in Latin America, but today many are forced to flee because of criminal, rather than political violence. Central American states must contend not only with local gangs, such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 in El Salvador, but the incursion of Mexican criminal groups, such as the Zetas' aggressive expansion into Guatemala.

In addition to facing the threat of violence or forced displacement from organized crime, Central Americans are often caught in the crossfire between criminal groups and government anti-organized crime efforts. In August 2011, at least 200 people from the north Guatemalan province of Peten sought refuge across the Mexican border after Guatemalan security forces repotedly accused them of collaborating with drug traffickers and burnt down their homes.

[Read InSight Crime's special on displacement in Latin America]