As the EU struggles to deal with the refugee crisis on its doorstep and a record number of unaccompanied minors apply for asylum in Europe, a new report by Human Rights Watch shows that the problem of child refugees remains a global one. EURACTIV’s partner El País – Planeta Futuro reports.
According to Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report, “Closed Doors: Mexico’s Failure to Protect Central American Refugee and Migrant Children”, around half of the migrant children crossing into Mexico from Central America are entitled to a visa that would allow them to stay in the country; however, the government only grants this benefit to less than 1% of them.
In its report, HRW explains that despite Mexico being a signatory to international aid mechanisms that are intended to help migrant children, as well as having a law in place to protect children, its authorities are deporting underage migrants without investigating their situation and without informing them that they may be entitled to a visa on humanitarian grounds.
“Children and adolescents do not receive information about their rights, or worse still, the immigration authorities tell them it would be better not to apply,” said Michael García, a legal adviser to HRW and author of the report.
The European Union used its prize money from winning the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to establish the Children of Peace Initiative, which is designed to aid children that have been affected by conflict and violence. In 2015, the programme received €337,000 in funds to help minors affected by conflict in Honduras, one of the main countries of origin of refugees fleeing to Mexico.
Mexican officials responsible for processing migrants act as a kind of filter that prevents these children from obtaining a visa. This, coupled with the often long waiting times in detention centres, scares young people and dissuades them from pursuing their application.
Children seeking refuge in Mexico have dramatically increased in number over the past four years. According to HRW’s data, 5,956 children were deported in 2012 and in 2015 this number had shot up to 28,017.
Many of those are thought to be searching for better economic prospects, but according to a United Nations study carried out in 2014, 48% of Central American minors interviewed in Mexico said they were fleeing violence in their homelands and that criminal groups have sprung up in the region, abusing children, recruiting them against their will and sexually exploiting young girls.
International organisations believe that these facts alone should be sufficient for children to receive protection in Mexico and that the country’s legal framework should ensure it. However, only a small proportion are granted safe haven. In 2015, 18,650 minors were apprehended by the Mexican authorities and only 128 submitted asylum applications. A staggeringly low 39 were successful.
The number of children arrested without documents in the United States fell by 22% in 2015, but the number of arrests made by Mexico grew by 70%.
In July 2014, US President Barack Obama met with the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua to address the crisis and the Southern Border plan, which is intended to up security checks on the Mexican borders.
Last December, during a visit to Washington, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Claudia Ruiz Massieu said that her country was “doing its part” to reduce the flow of child migrants from Central American to the US. HRW said in its report that this situation has led to the Mexican authorities being given more responsibility over immigration by Washington, which has been backed up by governmental financial support.
As the European Union classes Mexico as a middle-income nation, the level of development aid it receives is lower than other regions of the world, although the bloc has contributed significant funds to help deal with natural disasters and food security.
Of the €203 million allocated in humanitarian aid to Central America since 1994, €131 million has been used to respond to emergencies such as droughts, earthquakes and tackling the effects of organised crime.