UNHCR concerned about children in mixed migration flows through Mexico

News Stories, 12 November 2009

© UNHCR/M.Hoffmann
A group of young people hop a freight train in southern Mexico, hoping to eventually sneak their way into North America.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, November 12 (UNHCR) As more and more people use Mexico as a stepping stone to try and reach North America, the UN refugee agency and its partners have increased their monitoring of this migration flow in a bid to detect people in need of international protection especially children.

Unaccompanied minors will be among the topics to be discussed on Thursday and Friday next week in Costa Rica at a regional conference on refugee protection and migration. UNHCR is spending growing resources and time on this issue.

Children account for 8 percent of all undocumented migrants intercepted by the immigration authorities in Mexico, the bulk of them in the south. While most are trying to reunite with their families in the United States or Canada, some have fled persecution or conflict, which means they are people of concern to UNHCR.

In the last three years, Mexico's Migration Institute has appointed 170 child protection officers, like Grecia Campos, to ensure the rights of unaccompanied minors caught in the south-north mixed migration flows. The officials have been trained to detect and respond to the most urgent needs of detained children, and to facilitate the lodging of asylum claims.

"It's been an amazing experience to assist these children," said Campos, who works out of Villahermosa, capital of the southern state of Tabasco, one of the irregular migration hot spots. The former policewoman holds a degree in sociology and specializes in protection of children who seek or need asylum.

It's an important job, as Fernando Protti-Alvarado, UNHCR's representative in Mexico, indicated. "We have noticed that, many times, potential asylum-seekers are unaware of their right to apply for refugee status or are ignorant of the existing mechanisms to do so."

That's especially true about the children among the half-a-million or so people who pass through Mexico, or try to pass through, on irregular migration routes every year. In the first nine months of the year, more than 56,000 undocumented migrants were detained by the Mexican authorities.

"Most of the cases that arrive here are boys aged from 15 to 17, but we have also had cases of girls as young as 13. There was once a 14-year-old girl who was carrying her eight-month-old baby," explained Child Protection Officer Campos. "Around 70 percent of the minors we have here are Hondurans, and the rest are from Guatemala and El Salvador," she added.

UNHCR, meanwhile, has a permanent programme to train immigration officials and child protection officers on how to help unaccompanied refugee children, or those in need of asylum and protection.

"When I took the training course, I thought I was never going to have a refugee case, but I soon ended up with a Guatemalan kid who had been shot and persecuted by gang members after he refused to join them," Campos said. "He was eventually granted refugee status, but in the beginning . . . he didn't want to talk to me. So I had to be patient and wait until he had grown to trust me."

The child protection officers also ask all the unaccompanied children they interview to fill in a questionnaire about what risks they could face if sent back home, including domestic violence, persecution and kidnapping. They are also asked to list abuses they have faced during their journey.

"The stories that you hear are heartbreaking," Campos said. "You can't imagine the situations some of these children have had to deal with."

Aside from Tabasco, UNHCR also monitors the mixed migration flows in the southern Mexican states of Chiapas, Quintana Roo and Oaxaca, from where almost 60 percent of the total asylum applications in Mexico this year have come.

Currently Mexico hosts around 1,200 refugees. Most of the recent arrivals have come from Colombia and Haiti, while a few have originated from Africa and Asia, especially the Middle East.

By Mariana Echandi in Mexico City, Mexico

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Children

Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

The Continuity Of Risk

A three-city study of Congolese women-at-risk resettled in the U.S.

Stateless in American Samoa: Mikhail Sebastian's Story

Mikhail Sebastian is a stateless man who has been living in the United States for more than a decade-and-a-half. In this video, he tells of the hardships he has faced and the importance of providing legal protections to stateless persons in the U.S.

Operational Guidance

Operational Guidance for the prevention of micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, more than 2 million people have fled the violence. Many have made their way to European Union countries, finding sanctuary in places like Germany and Sweden. Others are venturing into Europe by way of Bulgaria, where the authorities struggle to accommodate and care for some 8,000 asylum-seekers, many of whom are Syrian. More than 1,000 of these desperate people, including 300 children, languish in an overcrowded camp in the town of Harmanli, 50 kilometres from the Turkish-Bulgarian border. These people crossed the border in the hope of starting a new life in Europe. Some have travelled in family groups; many have come alone with dreams of reuniting in Europe with loved ones; and still others are unaccompanied children. The sheer number of people in Harmanli is taxing the ability of officials to process them, let alone shelter and feed them. This photo essay explores the daily challenges of life in Harmanli.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Uganda: A Father's TroublesPlay video

Uganda: A Father's Troubles

Forty-five-year-old Gabriel fled South Sudan with his wife and children to find safety in the UN compound in Bor. But, in April 2014, his wife was killed when an armed mob forced their way in, and now he is a single father to five children, seeking a better life in Uganda.
Ethiopia: Far From Home Play video

Ethiopia: Far From Home

Nyabuka Lam arrived in Pagak, Ethiopia in September after escaping armed men who shot her three children and husband back in her home country, South Sudan. After walking for 15 days to reach the safety of Pagak, she is now finally on a path to recovery.
South Sudan: Grandma Abuk's ChildrenPlay video

South Sudan: Grandma Abuk's Children

Years of violence and bloodshed in South Sudan robbed Abuk of her seven children. When fighting returned last year, the old lady fled anew with her grandchildren, hampered by deteriorating eyesight.