New Centre for Unaccompanied Minors Opens on Mexico's Southern Border
IOM and its partners – the UN Development Programme (UNDP),
the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the government of the State of
Chiapas – have opened in the border town of Tapachula a
centre to provide a safe haven and care for an increasing number of
unaccompanied minors from Central America who enter Mexico through
its southern border.
The centre, which is funded by the governments of Australia,
Canada and New Zealand and managed by the local authorities,
provides basic health care and psychosocial support, telephone
access to reach out to family members, recreational activities, and
vocational training opportunities.
Most unaccompanied minors, aged between 10 and 17, are making
the journey alone to join one or both parents who are already in
the United States, or are migrating under pressure from families to
find work and send money home. Estimates indicate there could be
some 20,000 per year.
"All unaccompanied minors, regardless of their age are
particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, but their
numbers are not clearly reflected in studies or current
statistics," says Juan Artola, IOM's Chief of Mission in
According to local immigration and law enforcement officers,
5,200 boys and girls from Central America were intercepted on the
southern Mexican border in 2008. But many more are making the
journey alone and are not are intercepted by the
Local NGOs estimate that some 3,000 minors, mainly from El
Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are currently in the border area
scratching a living as street peddlers, hauling goods on and off
trucks, collecting garbage, working in bars and restaurants, as sex
workers and domestic helpers, or begging.
This number does not include many Guatemalan girls who work as
domestic servants in Mexico, but because of the proximity to their
villages of origin, often cross the border.
Artola says there is a lot of work ahead to ensure that the
rights of these youngsters are protected. "Most of the
unaccompanied minors are 14 to 17 years old. Often, there are
no guidelines and local governments do not have the infrastructure,
training and resources to assist this age group."
Mexico's Under Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with
IOM, established an inter-institutional working group to promote
synergies and concrete actions to protect these children. IOM
is also working with the government of the State of Chiapas to
develop guidelines and build capacity amongst all institutions that
come in contact with the minors.
Since 2005, IOM has been assisting unaccompanied minors to
return home through the Reserve Fund for the Return of Highly
Vulnerable Migrants created by the Regional Conference on
Migration, a regional forum on international migration which
includes Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El
Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and the
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