Doctors Without Borders Statement on Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America

Marta Soszynska/MSF

This week in Miami, the United States and Mexico are co-hosting a high-level Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America to address some of the issues driving mass migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, also known as the Northern Triangle of Central America.

It is estimated that 500,000 people flee the Northern Triangle every year. The high level of violence in the Northern Triangle ranks alongside the world’s deadliest war zones and is a main driver of migration from this region. Murder, kidnappings, threats, recruitment by non-state armed actors, extortion, sexual violence, and forced disappearance are daily facts of life in these countries—as well as on the migration route through Mexico.

In a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) report published last month using data from MSF patients in Mexico, the international medical humanitarian organization documented the severity of the crisis. Of all Northern Triangle refugees and migrants surveyed, 43 percent had a relative who died due to violence in the last two years. Nearly one-third of the women surveyed had been sexually abused during their journey. In 2016, MSF treated thousands of migrants and refugees in Mexico for intentional wounds and emotional trauma.   

Despite this clear humanitarian crisis, there is no commensurate international response, and the need to address humanitarian concerns is not even on the agenda for this week’s high level meeting, said MSF, which has run programs for migrants and refugees in Mexico since 2012. 

Statement from Jason Cone, MSF USA Executive Director 

“The US and Mexico are turning a blind eye to Central America’s humanitarian crisis. Given the extraordinarily high violence at the root of the problem, there should be attention to the emergency needs of people forced from their homes. Addressing the crisis in Central America cannot only be about future prosperity and security; it must also be about saving and protecting lives today.

In interviews and medical data from our patients, we found that nearly 40 percent of patients surveyed reported direct attacks, threats to themselves or their families, extortion, or forced recruitments as the main reasons for fleeing their countries. Sixty-eight percent reported being victims of violence during their transit in Mexico. The mental health picture for migrants and refugees is also worrying: our teams are reporting post-traumatic stress disorder rates close to rates seen in populations affected by direct conflict.

Both the US and Mexico have a critical role to play to end this humanitarian crisis. More foreign aid is needed to establish safe and humane alternatives to detention for refugees and migrants who have fled to Mexico.

The Mexican government should cease blanket deportations of Northern Triangle citizens, and must provide better alternatives to detention; and ensure access to adequate medical care, as required under existing Mexican law. The US government must stop deportations of vulnerable people back to a dangerous region, and stop pushing Mexico to do the same. The US should expand existing Temporary Protected Status designations for citizens from the region, ensure humane conditions for people while their cases are processed, and guarantee access to medical and mental health care services.

Addressing longer-term issues of security and economic development will take many years, but hundreds of thousands of vulnerable, preyed-upon people need our help now.” 

Read More: Report: Forced to Flee Central America's Northern Triangle: A Neglected Humanitarian Crisis