Statement by Bernt Aasen, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and Caribbean, on the dramatic increase of unaccompanied children seeking to enter the United States
NEW YORK, 10 June 2014 – “UNICEF welcomes the urgent relief efforts by the Government of the United States to address a record increase in the number of unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, seeking to enter the US.
“According to US government data, over 47,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the southwest border in the past eight months, almost double the number apprehended between October 2012 and September 2013. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that at least 10,000 more children will try to cross into the United States without their parents before the end of September.
“A spike in the numbers of girls among the child migrants is worrying. Girls and the youngest are the most vulnerable and need special protective care. It is of some comfort that the relief efforts will provide adequate housing, food, medical care, some legal assistance and education.
”Clear and compelling evidence – including a recent report by the UN Refugee Agency, Children on the Run, as well as several studies conducted by UNICEF in different Central American countries – show distinct "push factors" are at the heart of why these children flee. They are often escaping persecution from gangs and other criminal groups, brutality and violence in their own communities and even in their homes, as well as persistent conditions of poverty and inequality. These phenomena affect countries throughout the region, as more and more children undertake a dangerous and sometimes life-endangering journey to seek the safety and protection they need outside their home country.
“Meeting the needs of these child migrants – some barely old enough to walk – requires strong coordination and cooperation across borders, by customs and law enforcement officers, care givers and the general public who may encounter these children.
“UNICEF calls on governments in countries from which the children are fleeing – Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, all signatories to the Convention on the Rights of the Child – to do everything in their reach to provide children in their own countries with the support, care, protection, education and life-skills opportunities they so urgently need.
“In all their actions for and on behalf of children, authorities must be guided by the spirit and principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Above all else, their responsibility is to act in the best interests of the child.”
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