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Mon Jun 10, 2019, 10:23 AM

For Central Americans, Fleeing to Europe May Beat Trying to Reach U.S.

Asylum seekers from Central America at the border in Tijuana, Mexico, part of a migrant caravan that made its way from Central America to the United States border last year.

Meghan Dhaliwal for The New York Times

By Melissa Vida
June 9, 2019

BRUSSELS — For María Marroquín, life in El Salvador had become intolerable. Gang members extorting money had killed merchants in the market where she worked. She feared for her 27-year-old son, David, after a cousin had been kidnapped and was never found.

So last year, Ms. Marroquín, now 53, decided to flee the country. But unlike many Salvadorans making a similar, wrenching decision, she headed across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe instead of joining the tens of thousands of people trekking north in hopes of reaching the United States and seeking asylum there.

“Going to the United States would be crazy right now,” she said, citing the Trump administration’s push for tougher immigration policies. An increasing number of Central Americans have been weighing their options and begun heading to Europe instead.

The number seeking asylum in Europe has increased nearly 4,000 percent in the last decade, according to official figures, and the rate of arrivals is accelerating. Nearly 7,800 applied for asylum in Europe last year, up from 4,835 in 2017.


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