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A young migrant, northward bound. A young migrant, northward bound.

UNICEF criticizes Mexico for separating migrants’ families

Children over 12 are separated, causing 'toxic stress'

A children’s advocacy organization has criticized Mexican authorities for separating migrant children older than 12 from their families and causing “toxic stress.”

UNICEF Mexico child protection specialist Dora Giusti urged that Mexico and the United States speed up the reunification of families, warning that “the impact of separation and detention generates a toxic stress that could have psychological repercussions for life.”

“We make a strong call regarding this situation so that it never repeats anywhere, not in Mexico or in the United States or elsewhere,” she said.

Giusti was speaking on Wednesday during a presentation of the organization’s report, Uprooted in Central America and Mexico: Migrant and refugee children face a vicious cycle of hardship and danger.

The report explains that migrant children over 12 are usually kept in a separate area, even if accompanied by their families, while younger children stay with their mothers.

“Children in these detention centers are not allowed to leave for services or recreational purposes, even in cases where the process of determining migration or refugee status is long, and they often remain in detention for weeks or months,” said the document.

It explained that despite the implementation of the Southern Border Plan by the Mexican government in July 2014, “a large number of migrant children and families still use irregular routes through Mexico to reach the United States.”

From October 2017 to June 2018, at least 286,290 migrants were apprehended at the northwest Mexico border, including 37,450 unaccompanied children and 68,560 family units.

These unaccompanied children are at the highest risk of exploitation by criminal gangs, and in the case of girls, of sexual violence, as well as discrimination and rejection in the communities they travel through on their way north, said Giusti.

UNICEF estimates that almost 60,000 migrant children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were held in migratory detention centers in 2016 and 2017, instead of being lodged in shelters, as mandated by law.

Giusti explained that UNICEF has detected cases of minors that have been kept up to three months in the centers, creating “a strong sense of desperation” among them. Many prefer to be sent back to their countries of origin and start their northbound odyssey anew instead of staying in the detention centers and seeking refugee status.

“If they are not sent to a shelter, they grow desperate and don’t want to request refugee status anymore. For them, Mexico becomes the migratory station, and they don’t want to live that way.”

Specialized child protection agencies “should perform a detailed analysis of the rights” of every minor, but that doesn’t happen in may cases, and many minors are deported quickly, Giusti said.

She explained that many unaccompanied minors are fleeing violence and are looking to meet with relatives in the United States, “but they would be eager to stay in Mexico” if an employment or education opportunity was offered.

UNICEF urged Mexico to end the practice of detention of children because of their migrant status, as well as to protect them from violence, keep their families together and to address the structural causes that force them to flee their countries of origin, such as the lack of economic development and violence in Central America.

Source: Excélsior (sp)

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