The reality of Central American children trying to reach the US
The flow of refugee and migrant children from Central America to the United States continues to grow despite the dangers of the journey. 'Broken Dreams' is the latest UNICEF report showing the risks suffered by these children.
Almost 26,000 unaccompanied children and close to 29,700 people travelling as a family, mostly women and young children were detained at the US border and 16,000 were apprehended in Mexico. Most of them come from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, which have some of the world's highest murder rates.
Some of the children are deported, others stay weeks in detention and unaccompanied children may even face years of uncertainty while waiting for their hearings in immigration courts. Besides these, they may face kidnapping, trafficking and murder during their journey.
Also more than 100 refugees and migrants have suffered mutilations when riding atop the trains known as 'The Beast.' Although Mexican authorities have made it more difficult to ride still people risk their life in this journey.
“It is heart-rending to think of these children, most of them teenagers, but some even younger, making the grueling and extremely dangerous journey in search of safety and a better life. This flow of young refugees and migrants highlights the critical importance of tackling the violence and socio-economic conditions in their countries of origin,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth.
Children leave their country looking for better opportunities, escape gang violence and poverty. 63% of Honduras population lived below the poverty line in 2013, a s well as 60% of Guatemalans in 2011 and 32% of Salvadorians in 2013.
Despite their situation children face a high risk of detention and deportation. In 2015 35,000 children were held in immigration detention in Mexico and according to Human Rights Watch less than 1% were granted asylum.
Meanwhile in the US 75,000 people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were deported in 2015. Children are guaranteed an immigration court hearing and while they wait they are transferred to government-operated shelters, foster care homes and then released to sponsors who are usually relatives.
Children who don't have an attorney are more likely to be deported. As to June 2016 40% of apprehended children were deported compared to 3% for those who had legal representation.
Normally these cases take years to be decided and children remain with no legal status in the US. They are guaranteed access to school but most are prevented from attendance.
"Children should have full access to health and other services and should be allowed to live with their family whenever possible. The best interests of the child should always be a primary consideration in any decision concerning that child," remarks UNICEF. They propose 3 areas of intervention. Tackling the root causes to prevent children from beginning their journey to the US, Protecting migrants while they are in government custody and helping returnees when deported.
“We must remember that children, whatever their status, are first and foremost children. We have a duty to keep them safe in a healthy and nurturing environment,” highlighted Forsyth.