NEW YORK (March 23, 2020) – UNICEF USA supports the survival and well-being of children around the world, regardless of migration status. We urge all governments – including the U.S. Government – to ensure that any border restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic do not put vulnerable children and families even more at risk.
As governments make difficult decisions to fight this pandemic, we cannot forget that many children and their families have been uprooted from their homes by violence, persecution, and despair. Governments must consider the impact of such restrictions on the most vulnerable, especially children and families, and ensure that any restrictions do not discriminate based on migration status or nationality. We agree with the UN Network on Migration that all governments must not prevent people from seeking asylum or international protection, and must prioritize the protection of the most vulnerable, especially children.
Restrictions to entry at the U.S. southern border in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) could have terrible impacts on tens of thousands of people, including vulnerable children and families. We understand that such restrictions would allow border agents to immediately return migrants and asylum seekers who enter the United States to Mexico, including children, without any opportunity to make asylum cases or seek international protection. Such action could put children at terrible risk. In order to protect children and help mitigate the pandemic, UNICEF USA believes that vulnerable children and families seeking asylum should be allowed to enter the United States and remain here throughout their asylum proceedings.
Of course, allowing entry must incorporate important public health protocols to prevent and mitigate the risks of the coronavirus, such as screening on arrival and the use of quarantine for people who have the virus or have been exposed, and access to health services when needed. Any admissions procedures must include child-centric guidelines for quarantines and medical attention. This will help protect U.S. communities, and help protect public health in Mexico.
The situation for many refugee and migrant children and families in northern Central America and Mexico is already dangerous. As tens of thousands now wait in northern border areas in Mexico while their asylum process proceeds in the U.S., many of them live in overcrowded areas with limited access to hygiene, sanitation and health care. Should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 in these conditions, the impacts will be devastating. At this time, the only way to guarantee the safety of refugee and migrant children, with or without families, is to allow them to enter and remain in the United States during this COVID crisis.
In these challenging times, let us not forget those who are fleeing war and persecution – especially children. They need solidarity and compassion now more than ever.
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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 www.unicefusa.org.