NEW YORK / MEXICO CITY (January 30, 2019) – More than 12,000 people, including 3,000 children, have crossed from Tecun Uman, Guatemala, to Tapachula, Mexico, since January 17, UNICEF said today. It is critical to uphold special protection for these children, particularly those among them traveling alone, the children’s agency said.
“The Mexican government and people have been mostly welcoming towards the thousands of children and families crossing the border every day,” said Paloma Escudero, UNICEF Director of Communication at the end of a two-day visit to Tapachula. “Whether these children stay in Mexico or head further up north, it is crucial that they remain with their families, that they are kept out of detention centers and that their best interests are protected throughout the journey.”
According to government statistics, more than 30,000 children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were temporarily held in detention centers in 2018.
Although Mexico is increasingly implementing measures to safeguard children’s rights while in transit or seeking asylum in the country, challenges persist. At the Tapachula migration station, which holds close to 1,000 men, women and children, Escudero spoke with mothers and young women kept at the station while their asylum claims or deportation orders are processed.
“Although people staying in the center have access to food, health and recreational services, the conditions are inadequate,” Escudero said. “I saw mothers and small children sleeping on the floor in the hallways. Many told me that they were unsure what would happen to them next or when they might be allowed to leave.”
The new Mexican Government has officially committed to end detention of all child migrants and is presently working to fulfil this new policy. UNICEF and other organizations are closely supporting these efforts by helping develop alternatives to detention.
“Many of these children and young people are trading the trauma of violence and poverty back home for the trauma of displacement and uncertainty while on the move,” Escudero said. “The hope of a better, safer future that keeps them going is getting further and further out of reach.”
In Mexico, UNICEF continues to work with the Government and its partners to ensure that migrant children receive the support and services they need and that their rights are upheld. Through its teams in Tapachula, UNICEF is giving direct support to children arriving at the migration office in Ciudad Hidalgo, providing them with information about their migratory options. The children’s agency is also providing direct technical assistance to the Social Welfare Agency and Child Protection Authorities to ensure unaccompanied children are duly processed and receive appropriate care.
UNICEF is advocating with its Government partners to build on the country’s existing successful programs for children on the move, keeping the best interests of the child above all other considerations.
“UNICEF has been working with the government to identify and implement alternative solutions, including humanitarian visas, open shelters and day centers, that can keep families and children safe and protected while their claims are being processed,” Escudero said. “We look forward to seeing more of these programs along the Mexico migration route. After all, migration is not a crime and should not be treated as such.”
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The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to put children first. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. UNICEF USA supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when no children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit unicefusa.org.