Identity, Theatre for Change | April 20, 2022
Proposal for the Protection of Children and Adolescents in Situations of Mobility
Pablo Aurelio Loredo Oyervidez, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for the Americas, International Detention Coalition; Karen Valladares, Executive Director, National Forum for Migration in Honduras; María Eugenia Brizuela de Ávila, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, El Salvador
Along the migratory route and on the border between the United States and Mexico, it is vitally important to innovate protection for children and youth on the move.
Starting in Honduras and analyzing their caravans since 2018, we see a change from adult populations on the move there now being a migratory dynamic with entire families. In 2019, hurricanes Eta and Iota had a strong impact on the northern zone, driving this outflow.
However, in 2020, in the context of the pandemic, we saw closed borders. Although free transit regulated by CA-4 exists, it was not respected. To transfer minors, a birth certificate and power of attorney form were requested stating that the minor was authorized to travel with his or her companion.
At present, the dynamic has changed, because people are now better informed about the documents they must carry with them. In case they do not have their documents, they do it through blind spots. The same people from the communities near the border with Guatemala help with this in exchange for money.
In 2021, 12,300 returns of accompanied and unaccompanied children were reported. This increase in minors migrating is alarming. Although driven by family reunification, it is also influenced by the false promise that a human trafficker makes that, if the adult migrant brings children, the United States will let them enter. These same deceived and impoverished parents allow their children to travel with the hope that whoever they lent them to will help them in the future.
There are uncoordinated returns without a specific arrival time of buses coming from Mexico, with many children, youth and adults, and even the elderly. The government does not have a consistent program in the face of these events. However, as a result of the emergency of uncoordinated returns, a contingency plan was established through COPECO, giving them a budget to hire buses that could be installed at the border for their reception and for personnel that live near the area to accompany them, taking them to care centers. There are currently two: one in Omoa, to which adult men, women, LGBTI people, and the elderly arrive, where they are given the necessary care because it has good infrastructure to provide all the immediate care that people require. The other is the Belem center, located in San Pedro Sula, where children and youth, and now family units also arrive.
In both centers, personnel from the National Institute of Migration (INM) have high-end equipment for biometric processes that allows the registration of those who return to the country.
Currently within these centers there are no civil society organizations as before because it is prohibited. It is important to restore their presence there, given that many organizations have programs aimed at protective actions that people require, and even more so when their migration has been motivated by forced displacement and not economic migration, so this would allow these organizations to evaluate a more holistic accompaniment.
In January 2022 alone, 1,162 children have been returned, when the total in 2021 was only 300 children. In 2021, caravans were registered, but these were minimal, which were dissolved along the way. However, with the recent change in government, no caravans have been registered, which does not imply that people are not leaving the country. Hope has been generated, but caravans can resurface. At the time of writing, the Director of the Directorate for Children, Adolescents and Family - DINAF - has not yet been appointed as the Directorate for the Guarantor of Children's Rights.
This transition of government will give its own scenario, added to the particularities of each community. We expect new approaches to the authorities, a continuation of the projects that are already working, a renewed Honduras-Guatemala agreement, and a revitalization of the protocols that are not implemented.
In order for NGOs to receive support and be more effective, it must be noted that they not only work around a project. We must go further and generate more permanent operational plans. We suggest implementing advocacy actions in the communities, campaigns that reach these communities, with media such as the radio that alert about the false friendship of the coyotes.
There is no official information on the disappeared or deceased on the migratory route. Data from the Human Mobility Pastoral since 2014 estimates that there could be 6,000 missing Honduran children.
Since migrant children and adolescents have been arriving at the southern border of Mexico, the risks increase given the vastness of the territory. The further north they go, the riskier it gets.
Faced with this reality, legislative changes have been made to force the National Institute of Migration to prevent children from remaining in immigration stations due to subhuman conditions, lack of water, overcrowding, and possible violations of their human rights. This has meant that both accompanied and unaccompanied children cannot stay there, but unfortunately, given the lack of budget, there are only two shelters that can receive families and therefore these children are forced to stay at the station and face the risks.
A special recommendation is the creation and funding of sufficient and specialized shelters. In these shelters, work must be done with children and young people, who, in the current deficient facilities, escape to pursue their objective. In compliance with current legislation, when a criminal police investigation is initiated, the shelter closes due to the threat, leaving more children homeless.
Statistics show each year a significant increase in the number of children and adolescents traveling alone in Mexico, as well as the ages decreasing more and more. The case of a seven-year-old boy under the coyote's order was among these statistics. Children under 15 to 17 years of age from the Northern Triangle are the most frequently detected in San Luis Potosí.
What inhibits the authorities from processing asylum for these youth? The coyotes who train them not to ask for asylum, to return to their country, offering them the idea that they have three attempts from the country of origin. Let's add the fact that youth do not trust the authorities. The COMAR Mexican commission for refugee aid was overwhelmed with 1,000 requests per month. It took three months to respond, and now the waiting time has increased. No child may be returned without a resolution from the Attorney General's Office that determines the best interests of the minor.
A good response is to strengthen support of embassies. The countries of the Northern Triangle have embassies in Mexican territory covering the three different routes that migrants take to the United States. These embassies and NGOs carry out important work supporting those who suffer injuries when boarding La Bestia train.
From the first caravan researchers managed to interview 800 children and adolescents, 95% of which believe that if they cross the border they will be allowed to stay because they are minors. They don't believe what the organizations tell them. This, paid for by the coyotes' disinformation strategy, increases migratory flows.
The routes in Mexico are co-opted by organized crime, and there is risk even for those who work from a humanitarian vantage point, not to mention the danger for migrant children and adolescents. It is a profitable business that also includes express kidnappings and minors who are recruited by organized crime itself. These dangers push them to migrate through a criminal network. The federal government prohibited the sale of tickets to those who do not have a Mexican residence, so they take clandestine paths, leaving them out of the service model.
In 2021, INM performed interventions on a total of 75,000 children and adolescents, which is a record number.
The borders in the north have collapsed by the increase of other migrants. There is a large flow of Haitians, but among them there are no children or adolescents that are alone, but only accompanied.
Given this massive flow, the Government of Mexico gave funds to States of the Republic to open up spaces. But inappropriate spaces were set up, and there is no security to separate children who alone, and these places are not shelters.
Unaccompanied minors survive because of coyotes or people who help them, but nothing guarantees that they have not been victims of abuse. They do not travel completely alone because they form brotherhoods along the way. Likewise, the Caritas shelter network is very well organized and supportive (they must stock up on what they require, not on office assumptions). Finally, if they arrive at Immigration, the state DIFs give them shelter and comprehensive protection, health, housing, and reintegration if they have relatives in Mexico. We again conclude with the importance of shelters, strengthened with multidisciplinary teams.
Pablo Aurelio Loredo Oyervidez has a bachelor’s degree in law from the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí, is a specialist in women's rights from the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, an official of the State Human Rights Commission of San Luis Potosí, the ombudsman for the Protection of Girls, Children and Adolescents and is currently a monitoring and evaluation officer for the Americas at the International Detention Coalition (IDC).
Karen Valladares is a social worker and lawyer in international law, with 17 years of experience dealing with migration issues and human rights. She is currently the executive director of the National Forum for Migration in Honduras-FONAMIH, and this year she has also assumed the position as technical secretary of the Regional Network of Civil Organizations for Migration (RROCM).
María Eugenia Brizuela de Ávila is a lawyer who served as El Salvador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1999 to 2004. She worked as a Director of Corporate Sustainability at HSBC and holds senior positions with the International Commission on Missing Persons, the Atlantic Council, and as a board member and advisor to private entities and nonprofits.
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