News / Toronto

New coalition wants to help children from Central America escape violence

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the number of children making the journey alone to the U.S. border is on the rise.

Vilma Filici stands next to one of the artworks donated for the upcoming fundraising event to support the UNHCR in assisting children on the run.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Vilma Filici stands next to one of the artworks donated for the upcoming fundraising event to support the UNHCR in assisting children on the run.

One particular story on the UN refugee agency's Children On the Run website this past summer struck a nerve with Vilma Filici.

It's the story of a 17-year-old boy from Honduras whose grandmother encouraged him to leave the country on his own. The boy was stuck in a catch-22. If he refused to join a gang, they would shoot him. If he did join, a rival gang or the police would shoot him instead.

"That's a heartbreaking situation," said Filici, a Toronto immigration lawyer. She's heard similar stories from countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Venezuela, Guatemala and Panama.

"Gangs are very much in control of these countries, and governments can't protect their own citizens. There are also many young women falling prey to sexual abuse and prostitution. There are all kinds of horrible issues."

Filici and the Toronto Latin American community are trying to do something about it. A newly formed coalition, Latin American Toronto: Children on the Run, will hold its first fundraising event later this week to collect donations to support UN efforts in caring for unaccompanied kids.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the number of children making the dangerous journey alone to the U.S. border has doubled each year since 2011 and is on pace to reach 60,000 this year. U.S. authorities send many of those children back to Mexico, where they're left stranded.

In addition to sending help, the Toronto coalition wants to spread the word about the gravity of the situation. Filici said they've already heard from Canadians willing to adopt some of these children. In the new year, the group will start pushing for a political response.

"It could be a special program just like we had for the Syrian refugees, but dealing specifically with children," she said. "People are genuinely interested in helping financially, but we hope we can get a permanent solution to this crisis."

Get involved:

The coalition will hold its first fundraising event on Dec. 16, starting 11 a.m. at 1263 Wilson Ave.

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