UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore's Remarks at Virtual Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras
As prepared for delivery
NEW YORK, 20 April 2021- "Excellencies. Thank you for focusing on this important issue — one that affects hundreds of thousands of people on the move across the northern triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, as well as Mexico.
"Two years ago, a young woman in San Pedro Sula told me: 'We are not migrating to have nicer lives — we are migrating to survive.'
"These people are fleeing a tangle of dangers. Violence and death threats. Among the highest homicide and femicide rates in the world. Crushing poverty. Weak or non-existent safety nets and infrastructure. A lack of education, opportunity and even the most basic health care. And relentless natural disasters like last November’s back-to-back hurricanes.
"In recent years, hundreds of thousands of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have either sought protection within their countries or crossed international borders.
"We estimate that over 10 million need urgent assistance — from health and education, to protection services, to water and sanitation.
"And one in three internally displaced people in the region is a child.
"We’ve seen an alarming surge of migrant children in Mexico since the start of the year — from 380 to nearly 3,500. A nine-fold rise. Half have travelled without their parents.
"These children arrive after perilous journeys of up to two months —alone, exhausted and afraid. Every step is a risk of violence and exploitation, recruitment to gangs, and trafficking, which has seen a three-fold increase over the last 15 years.
"All of this is made worse by COVID-19’s lockdowns and restrictions, with about 11 million children out of school. They’re missing out on all the hallmarks of a normal childhood — learning, safety, routine, hope.
"As a global community, we cannot turn a blind eye. Nor can we wait for the root causes of migration to disappear. Children need our support now — both inside these countries and across borders.
"UNICEF is committed to making mobility safe, and ensuring that basic needs are met.
"Working shoulder-to-shoulder within humanitarian country teams and with partners, we’re delivering mobile health care, like immunizations and nutrition screening and support, as well as alternative pathways to education.
"We’re providing shelter and safe spaces for mothers and children to access care — including maternal and newborn health.
"And we’re conducting family tracing and reunification programming for child migrants to connect them to family members and reintegrate them safely into communities of origin.
"We’re also working to tackle some of the root causes of migration. From providing alternative education, counselling and psychosocial support for vulnerable young people. To establishing new child protection offices and developing alternative care models to end the detention of children. To scaling-up cash transfers and other social protections for families in need.
"With your help, we can do so much more.
"So please, help us increase access to alternative education and vocational training — including both online and offline models — so children and adolescents are prepared for a productive future.
"Help us scale-up cash transfers to families so they can make ends meet and climb out of poverty, while injecting needed cash into local economies.
"Help us build a cadre of locally trained social workers who can provide counselling and mental health support to vulnerable young people, and help prevent violence within communities.
"Help us protect and reintegrate children who have been recruited to gangs — including family-tracing and reunification services — as well as legal aid, to support legal migration pathways.
"Lend your support to ECLAC’s Comprehensive Development Plan for Northern Central America. An important opportunity to build needed infrastructure, spur economic activity, and address the root causes of migration.
"Support the Mexican government as it implements legal reforms to protect and support migrant children and phase out detention.
"And throughout, help us amplify our call to all states to guarantee the rights of people on the move — within countries and across borders. A child is a child first. Their rights do not disappear when they’re pushed from their homes. They need and deserve support — whether travelling alone or with their families — at every step.
"UNICEF looks forward to working with all of you — and our partners across the region — to support these young lives, and help these countries build new foundations of peace, prosperity and stability for the future. Thank you."