NEW YORK, 25 November 2019 – “Migrant children in northern Central America, Mexico and the United States are facing significantly reduced access to safety and international protection, due in large part to the recent spate of agreements and policy changes adopted by governments in the region. Taken together, these developments are having profound consequences for children, many of whom have been left with no safe options to escape violence and extortion, seek protection or reunite with family members abroad.
“Meanwhile, just as safe and regular migration pathways are closing, conditions for children and families living in northern Central America remain critical. Notwithstanding national efforts, violence, organized crime, extortion, poverty and limited access to quality education and social services continue to be part of daily life for millions. The region contains some of the world’s most violent countries and there is limited access to education and other essential services.
“The newly signed asylum cooperation agreements essentially mean that children moving through the region will now be forced to seek protection in the countries of northern Central America. Organized crime and violence in many areas make parts of these countries unsafe for their own children, let alone for those arriving from other places.
“In Mexico, the Migrant Protection Protocols have led to an increase in the number of migrant children stranded in border areas while they wait for their asylum cases to move through the U.S. court system – a process which can take months. In many of these areas, migrant children and their families face exploitation, violence and abuse and lack access to essential services.
“The combined effects of the Migrant Protection Protocols and the new asylum cooperation agreements are leaving children at great risk.
“Thousands of children are caught in a grueling cycle of violence and deprivation at home, danger on the road, detention or limbo, deportation, repeat – a cycle which is tearing apart the social fabric of families and communities. More than 32,000 children were returned from the United States and Mexico to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras between January and August 2019, double the 15,711 that were returned during the same period in 2018.
“UNICEF is on the ground in the region, working to provide uprooted children with protection and essential services wherever they may be. We are also working with authorities and NGOs to expand their capacity to meet the needs of migrant children, and to ensure that the best interests of children are given the utmost consideration in immigration procedures. But more support is urgently needed.
“Ensuring the wellbeing of migrant children requires a collective response from all countries involved, as well as from the international community. This effort should include several key components:
“First, governments should prioritize the protection of children – no matter who they are, where they come from or how they entered the territory – and guarantee access to asylum procedures in a safe and timely manner. This implies providing access to territory for children and their families to claim asylum, ensuring child-appropriate reception and care for children and families and strengthening national child protection systems to protect and support children.
“Second, the international community should provide help and investments that protect children from violence and increase opportunities for learning and earning to ensure that third countries are, in fact, safe.
“Third, the international community should do more to help address the acute needs of migrant children and families in the region, including psychosocial support and alternative care options to avoid detention and family separation, while increasing migrant protection and asylum capacities along the corridor from northern Central America to the U.S. over the longer term.
“Finally, governments in the region and the international community should come together to tackle the root causes that are pushing children and families out of their communities – poverty, violence and a lack of educational and economic opportunities.
“If these actions are not taken urgently, the region could become embroiled in an intractable crisis. Threats and multiple deprivations are forcing thousands of children and families from home, but there is nowhere safe for them to go. We can and must do better for them – together. We can help provide safety and opportunity for children whether at home or on the move.”