Mexico and Central America: Children on the Move and other Crises Appeal
Humanitarian Action for Children
UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children appeal helps support the agency’s work as it provides conflict- and disaster-affected children with access to water, sanitation, nutrition, education, health and protection services. Return to main appeal page.
Mexico and Central America: Children on the move and other crises snapshot
- More families with children are migrating across Mexico and Central America, fleeing poverty and violence, a phenomenon that is pushing the number of children and families on the move transiting the subregion to record highs. Climate-related events (e.g., the El Niño weather pattern) and other crises threaten areas already affected by food insecurity and facing effects of past disasters.
- UNICEF estimates that 4.1 million children will need humanitarian assistance in Mexico and Central America in 2024. UNICEF will assist children on the move, in transit or returned, and those in host communities whose services are overstretched; and will sustain basic services and protection in communities affected by violence, displacement, food insecurity, malnutrition and climate-related disasters.
- UNICEF requires $153 million to support 2.1 million people (including nearly 710,000 children). Protection services for women and children on the move and restoration and improvement of critical health, education and WASH infrastructure and services in other affected communities are priorities in 2024.
Key planned targets
465,371 primary caregivers receiving infant and young child feeding counselling
471,590 women and children accessing gender-based violence mitigation, prevention, response
195,892 children accessing formal or non-formal education, including early learning
1 million people accessing a sufficient quantity and quality of water
Funding requirements for 2024
Country needs and strategy
Migration flows across Mexico and Central America are multidirectional and interconnected, with many countries acting simultaneously as places of origin, transit and destination. The number of migrants crossing through the Darien border to Panama hit record-high figures in 2023, with close to 409,000 entries between January and September 2023, nearly three times the number recorded during the same period in 2022. One in every five migrants walking through the Darien jungle is a child, making children the fastest growing group among people on the move through this border. More families with children are now migrating, attempting to reach the United States. A 38 per cent increase compared with 2022 has been recorded in the number of encounters with individuals in family groups at the southwestern border of the United States. Migrants, especially children and women, face multiple risks throughout their journey. In surveys conducted at borders in Panama, one third of interviewed migrants reported experiencing theft, scams or fraud in their journey; at least 222 people on the move have been reported missing across the subregion in 2023 (18 children, 16 women) and reports of sexual violence are frequent.
Children on the move require life-saving assistance and protection and access to education, health, nutrition and social protection systems. The humanitarian needs of vulnerable migrant children and families put pressure on existing services that are often already scarce or even nonexistent in remote areas of transit, and overwhelm local authorities and communities in transit and destination countries, especially during peaks of mixed mass movements. Cross-border migration and internal displacement in Mexico and Central America are triggered by a combination of factors: crime and violence (including high femicide rates), lack of opportunities, structural inequity and poverty and consequent poor access to services, climate-related disasters, food insecurity and malnutrition, and other causes.
Adding to the migration crisis and the long-standing vulnerabilities in Central America, approximately 1.7 million people are at increased risk due to El Niño-induced drought conditions. These people are exposed to severe disruptions in access to water, food production and livelihoods, and increased levels of food insecurity and malnutrition for children. All this is occurring in countries where more than 5.6 million people, including 1.9 million children, are already facing significant levels of acute food insecurity (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Phase 3 or above) and urgently require assistance.
As the increased flow of migrants across Mexico and Central America continues, straining national and local services, UNICEF will continue working alongside governments and partners, providing children and families with access to basic services throughout their migration journey. These efforts are guided by the Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action. UNICEF will ensure integrated interventions to facilitate access to water and sanitation, education, health, nutrition and child protection services in host communities.
In 2024, UNICEF will foster the humanitarian–development–peace building nexus by strengthening the capacities of border authorities and local partners, supporting governments’ binational coordination mechanisms, facilitating information sharing and jointly developing protocols and tools for the care of children on the move, among other efforts.
UNICEF and partners support policies and provide services to assist children and families who face hardship, exploitation, abuse and very high risk to their health and safety on the irregular migration journey. Such support includes strengthening national/local capacities for protection for migrant and refugee children and working in communities, shelters and reception centres to provide psychosocial support or referral to specialized child protection and gender-based violence services. UNICEF also raises awareness about the risks of irregular migration and its impact on children.
In support to authorities and partners to expand access to basic services for children on the move and other vulnerable groups, UNICEF provides technical support to improve the reach and effectiveness of humanitarian cash transfer programmes, supports strengthening of local health/nutrition services, implements programmes to identify out-of-school children and promote their educational reintegration, backs initiatives to provide migrant children with legal identification and raises awareness to fight discrimination against migrants.
In communities still recovering from the impacts of climate change-related events, UNICEF will continue working to restore basic services and infrastructure (including water supply, health and education), ensuring that these are resilient and better prepared to face future shocks.
In 2024, UNICEF will continue supporting the systematic inclusion of cross-cutting issues in its programming, and Grand Bargain commitments will be mainstreamed across strategies: localization, strengthening government and local actors’ capacities, accountability to affected populations and ensuring the quality and impact of humanitarian cash transfers. UNICEF ensures the participation of targeted groups in the design of interventions. UNICEF mobilizes regional and global networks to ensure that adequate staff capacity is made available when needed, including through leadership/co-leadership of the WASH, Nutrition, and Education sectors, the regional Cash Working Group and the Child Protection Area of Responsibility.
Humanitarian Action is at the core of UNICEF’s mandate to realize the rights of every child. This edition of Humanitarian Action for Children – UNICEF’s annual humanitarian fundraising appeal – describes the ongoing crises affecting children on the move in Mexico and Central America; the strategies that we are using to respond to these situations; and the donor support that is essential in this response.