In the countries of northern Central America – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – and in Mexico, gang-related violence, organized crime, extortion, poverty and limited access to quality education and social services are part of daily life for millions of children. Each day, families facing these harsh conditions make the painful decision to leave their homes, communities and countries in search of safety and a more hopeful future. Some move within the region, while others head north to Mexico and the United States.
Yet many of the families trying to escape their desperate circumstances experience a host of new problems and traumas once they turn to irregular migration routes. These families must navigate a long, uncertain journey in which they risk being preyed upon by traffickers or other criminals, or losing their bearings in a mountain pass or desert while they try to avoid the authorities. They may be apprehended in transit or upon reaching their destinations, only to be detained and then returned to their countries of origin. If they are sent back, they are likely to experience an intensification of the factors – violence, poverty, lack of opportunities, stigmatization, social exclusion and internal displacement – that drove them to migrate in the first place.
The end result is, essentially, a circle of danger and hardship that violates the best interests of children and young people throughout the migration and deportation cycle.
This Child Alert takes stock of the root causes of irregular migration from northern Central America and Mexico. It examines the array of challenges and dangers faced by migrant and refugee children and families during the arduous process of migration and return. And it employs evidence and interviews with some of these children and families – as well as non-governmental organizations and government partners – to highlight workable solutions that can protect the lives and well-being of uprooted children.