Humanitarian Crisis in Central America

People are fleeing the kind of violence we usually see in war zones

Pictured here in Mexico, 54-year-old Rosa fled gang violence in El Salvador with two of her grandchildren.
MEXICO 2016 © Christina Simons/MSF
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Every year, an estimated 500,000 people flee extreme violence and poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and head north through Mexico to find safety. The high levels of violence in the region, known as the Northern Triangle of Central America, are comparable to that in war zones where MSF has worked for decades.

Gang-related murders, kidnappings, extortion, and sexual violence are daily facts of life. “In my country, killing is ordinary—it is as easy as killing an insect with your shoe,” said one man from Honduras, who was threatened by gang members for refusing their demand for protection money, and later shot three times.

Central Americans fleeing violence often face more of the same along the migration route through Mexico. In 2017, MSF published a special report based on two years of research into the medical needs of refugees and migrants in the region.

39
percent
of patients surveyed reported attacks or threats as main reason for fleeing
68
percent
of patients surveyed were victims of violence while in transit through Mexico
31
percent
of women surveyed were sexually assaulted along the journey

MSF teams have been providing medical and mental health care to migrants and refugees along the migration routes through Mexico since January 2013. We have provided more than 33,000 consultations at mobile health clinics, migrant centers, and local hostels (albergues). Many of our patients need mental health support due to the significant stresses related to conditions in their home countries as well as on the run. Treatment for women often includes medical and psychosocial care for victims of sexual violence. Teams provide primary care as well as treatment for acute and chronic diseases whenever possible.

We are constantly looking for new ways to provide care for people while they’re on the move. Our team in Mexico is collaborating with refugees and migrants to design a chatbot that allows patients to receive and share general health care information on their mobile phones. The bot, which is being piloted in 2018, will also enable people with urgent mental health issues to directly connect with our teams.

MSF’s direct experience on the ground points to a broader humanitarian crisis in Central America. Despite the catastrophic conditions in the region, the US and Mexico generally treat people from the Northern Triangle as economic migrants, and have focused efforts on detention and deportation rather than on providing protection and support. MSF is calling on the US and Mexico to provide humane treatment to all refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants and to stop deportations of vulnerable people back to a dangerous region.