Why are families leaving home?
Fleeing systemic violence and poverty, Central Americans have set out in caravans, or large groups, for more than a decade. In October 2018, a group that originated in San Pedro Sula, Honduras swelled to 7,200 people – including 2,300 children, capturing media attention in a way few others had.
This month, a new caravan left Honduras. Migrating families continue to form caravans periodically because a larger group can provide protection and reduce the risk of dying on the harrowing journey. As long as conditions at home make life unbearable, people will feel compelled to leave everything behind in search of safety and a better future.
Gang violence and legacies of war have made El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala some of the most violent and impoverished areas in the world
Most of the children traveling with a caravan are leaving El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Gang violence and legacies of war have made these countries some of the most violent and impoverished areas in the world, and the children are seeking safety and economic opportunity. The violence can be conceptualized by looking at the homicide rates in each of the countries and comparing them to the U.S., where many of the children hope to seek asylum:
- El Salvador – 83 murders per 100,000
- Honduras – 57 murders per 100,000
- Guatemala – 27 murders per 100,000
- USA – 5 murders per 100,000
These conditions, in addition to limited access to quality education and social services, are part of daily life for millions of children in the region. Each day, families facing these harsh conditions make the painful decision to leave their homes, communities and countries in search of a more hopeful future.
What is the need?
While those traveling with a caravan hope for safety in numbers, the perils of using irregular migration routes remain significant, especially for children. The journey is long, uncertain, and full of danger, including the risk of exploitation, violence and abuse. Migrating and displaced children are at risk of some of the worst forms of abuse, often falling victim to traffickers and other criminals.
Thousands of children need protection and access to essential services. The long and arduous journey has left them exposed to inclement weather, including dangerously hot temperatures, with limited access to proper shelter. Some have already fallen ill or suffered from dehydration.
When, and if, these children reach their destination countries, they encounter new threats. Despite extraordinary and generous actions in many places and by many people and organizations, children and their families struggle to gain a foothold.
UNICEF is there at every step of the way protecting children, and you can help
This issue is much larger than the recent caravans, as evidenced by the more than 50,000 unaccompanied children who were apprehended at the Southwest U.S.-Mexico border in Fiscal Year 2018. And as long as there have been children in need, UNICEF has been there every step of the way protecting them in their home countries, in transit, at their destinations, and upon return.
Utilizing a longstanding presence in Central America, UNICEF is working with governments and other partners to ensure that children are provided with the help and services they need and that their rights are upheld. This includes providing technical assistance to authorities on nutrition and child protection, such as developing models for alternative care to detention, and expanding access to psychosocial support.
Additionally, UNICEF and partners are providing children and families in caravans with safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation packs, oral rehydration salts, sunscreen, and soap.
UNICEF works with governments and civil society partners at all levels to keep children safe by addressing the root causes that drive them to flee, with or without their parents, in the first place. A child is a child, and UNICEF needs your help to make sure they are treated as such. Please donate now.
UNICEF and partners are working tirelessly in Mexico, Central America, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Bangladesh and around the world to save and protect children. With a presence in 190 countries and territories, UNICEF has helped save more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world.
To advocate on behalf of the world's children and connect with other UNICEF supporters in your community, we encourage you to join UNICEF UNITE. Visit unicefunite.org for more information.
Top photo: © Getty Images