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Violent crime is a fact of life in Matamoros, the second largest city in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas. In December 2019, the U.S. State Department issued an advisory urging tourists to steer clear of Tamaulipas altogether, citing widespread homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, robbery, extortion and sexual assault. U.S. government employees are not allowed to travel there after dark, or hail taxis on the street, ever.
But as a result of policies and practices put in place by the U.S. government in 2019, an estimated 2,200 migrants and asylum seekers — including 700 children — fleeing violence in Central America are currently stranded in Matamoros as they wait for their asylum cases to wend their way through the U.S. immigration court system.
Conditions are dire for parents and children, many of whom have been crowded into a sprawling sea of tents and tarps for weeks or months. Safe drinking water, toilets and health care are in short supply. There is hardly anywhere for children to play or receive the services they urgently need.
Working with partners, UNICEF Mexico is responding to the humanitarian situation in Matamoros to reach children and families in need. These efforts include:
- Creating Child-Friendly Spaces where kids can play and feel safe
- Providing Early Childhood Development interventions to protect the health and well-being of small children
- Coordinating water, sanitation and hygiene services
- Working in the community to protect migrant children and keep families together
UNICEF and other humanitarian partners are calling on Mexican institutions to guarantee the rights of all migrant children currently trapped in Matamoros. "It is important that the Protocol for the Protection of Migrant Children is implemented by the Government of Mexico as soon as possible," said Pressia Arifin-Cabo, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Mexico.
"There's uncertainty on what is going to happen to these children and adolescents. The instability impacts their well-being and has consequences for their survival and development. The anxiety of small children is evident when they are far from their parents, even when it is only for a moment."
UNICEF Mexico's emergency programming will create a safer, more dignified living environment for children, young people and families who seeking a better, safer life.
Top photo: UNICEF is providing urgently needed support for migrant children and families stranded in tent encampments in Matamoros, Mexico, just over the red-arched bridge from Brownsville, TX, as they wait for their asylum cases to proceed through the U.S. immigration court system. © UNICEF