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UN pushes for migrants to be called refugees

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - United Nations officials are pushing for many of the Central Americans fleeing to the United States to be treated as refugees displaced by armed conflict.

Such a designation would ratchet up the pressure on the United States and Mexico to accept tens of thousands of people currently ineligible for asylum.

Officials with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees say they hope to see movement toward a regional agreement on that status Thursday. That's when migration and interior department representatives from the U.S., Mexico, and Central America meet in Nicaragua to discuss updating a 30-year-old declaration regarding the obligations nations have to aid refugees.

Such a resolution would lack any legal weight. However, the U.N. agency says it believes "the U.S. and Mexico should recognize that this is a refugee situation, which implies that they shouldn't be automatically sent to their home countries but rather receive international protection."

Most of the people widely considered to be refugees by the international community are fleeing more traditional political or ethnic conflicts like those in Syria or the Sudan. Central Americans would be among the first modern migrants considered refugees because they are fleeing violence and extortion at the hands of criminal gangs.

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