TEGUCIGALPA - Central American governments are failing to stem soaring violent crime, pushing people to flee north in record numbers, Amnesty International said Friday.

"El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have become virtual war zones where lives seem to be expendable and millions live in constant terror at what gang members or public security forces can do to them or their loved ones," Salil Shetty, the right group's secretary general, said in a statement. "These millions are now the protagonists in one of the world's least visible refugee crises."

In addition to failing to tackle rampant violence and sky-high homicide rates, the NGO report said, governments in those countries do not have protective plans in place for "deportees forced by countries such as Mexico and the USA to return to life-threatening situations."

Amnesty said some 48,000 people from those countries had requested asylum elsewhere in 2015 - double the previous year's rate - and that sky-rocketing deportations, especially from Mexico, were exacerbating the already desperate situation.

Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador constitute what is known as the "Northern Triangle" of Central America: gang-ridden nations whose murder rates are among the highest on the planet outside of actual war zones.

The United Nations ranked El Salvador as one of the world's deadliest countries outside a war zone, with 108 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015.

"Although countries like Mexico and the USA are utterly failing to protect Central American asylum seekers and refugees," Shetty said, "it is high time for authorities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to own up to their role in this crisis and take steps to tackle the problems that force these people to leave home in the first place."