Each year, more than 400,000 people – most from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – cross Mexico, fleeing violence, poverty and threats from criminal gangs. For more than three years, teams from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have been providing them with medical care and humanitarian aid.
What compels so many Central Americans to leave their countries? Widespread violence: killings, kidnappings, disappearances, extortion, threats and forced recruitment by armed militants. Some cities in El Salvador and Honduras have the highest homicide rates in the world. This situation compels a considerable number of people to leave their homes and loved ones to save their own lives. 16% of MSF’s patients say that direct attacks were their main reason for fleeing, while 41% decided to flee after receiving direct threats. Undoubtedly, violence is a determining factor. Combined with poverty, it’s the main factor forcing these people to migrate to Mexico and the US.
Following the lead of so many other nations the Mexican government has implemented its ‘Southern Border Plan’ where security has been toughened up and controls and checkpoints have increased, forcing migrants to take more dangerous routes. People face criminal gangs and all kinds of violence, including sexual violence. They are at risk of being robbed, abused, raped, kidnapped or even killed by criminal organisations. MSF conducted in 2015 along different parts of the migration route, two-thirds of migrants and refugees reported being subjected to some form of violence. The ‘Southern Border Plan’ has also resulted in increased deportations or ‘repatriations’. Official figures from the Migration Policy Unit are striking: in 2015, 88 per cent of migrants under arrest were deported. The systematic deportation of Central Americans who are at risk of violence in their countries of origin calls into question access to protection mechanisms which should be guaranteed in Mexico.