Under the rhetoric of border control, the first six months of this year has seen 25,000 women and children from Northern Central America seeking asylum deported after arriving in the US and Mexico searching for a better life. A recent report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stressed the importance of a need to address and put into consideration the underlying factors of forced migration in terms of the treatment of child-asylum seekers in both lawful and humane conditions. The report underlines the two main reasons of migration from Northern Central America to be violence and poverty, with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras being the main countries from which children are attempting to find asylum in the US and Mexico.
With many children living in poverty, the prevalence of gang violence and with an increasing number of forced child recruitment into armed criminal gangs, many of those taking the journey into the US and Mexico, are doing so out of desperation. According to official reports by the UN Refugee Agency, globally registered refugees and asylum seekers from Northern Central America grew by 58 per cent in 2017 from 2016. The deportation of these asylum seekers by the US and Mexico means that children are sent back to situations where they are unable to pay for basic necessities such as food, shelter and medicine, leaving many internally displaced, and subject to violence as well as an increased risk of exploitation. The rejection of asylum within a country should not undermine the government’s responsibility to ensure the rights of any person are met under human rights law and refugee law. This includes Article 9 of the international accord which states that a child “shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will” except after judicial review and only if it is “necessary for the best interests of the child.”
UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Maria Cristina Perceval has said “millions of children in the region are victims of poverty, indifference, violence, forced migration and the fear of deportation. Being returned to impossible situations makes it more likely that they will migrate again.” Governments have a need to consider the factors of forced migration before deporting children back into abusive conditions. Child protection, regardless of legal status, should be prioritized at all stages of the migration process which includes safe resettlement if they are returned home. In the innately stressful and undermining conditions of detention by migration authorities, the importance to ensure the rights and needs of children are met must be at the forefront of migration policy.
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