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News > U.S.

Central American Asylum-Seeking Children Face Harsh Conditions: Doctors

  • A Central American child plays at an asylum-seekers temporary shelter in Laredo, Texas, U.S. June 4, 2019.

    A Central American child plays at an asylum-seekers temporary shelter in Laredo, Texas, U.S. June 4, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 June 2019

The U.S. migrant deterrence policies aggravate the condition of children who have suffered physical and psychological violence.

The Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) published a study Tuesday that shows that Central American asylum-seeking children face severe and punitive policies at their arrival at the U.S.-Mexico border, a situation which violates their rights and aggravates their traumas.


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“Children are being met at the U.S. border with harsh, punitive policies that both violate their rights and severely affect their wellbeing,” Kathryn Hampton, the PHR Asylum Network coordinator, said.

“U.S. immigration officials have justified such policies in the name of deterrence. However, if violence is a major factor driving children to seek refuge in the U.S... harsh border enforcement will not serve as an effective deterrent and will only cause more harm to an already traumatized population.”

"There Is No One Here to Protect You," a report which is based on physical and psychological evaluations made to more than 180 children and adolescents between January 2014 and April 2018, depicts experiences of extreme violence and sexual abuse suffered by migrants at the hands of gangs or policemen in their homelands.​​​​​​​

The PHR study, which also analyzes cases of family separations that began at the border in 2017, calls on U.S. authorities to recognize the right of these children to seek asylum​​​​​​​. "The separation from their parents increases the risks of post-traumatic disorder and depression," says the report.

In addition, the PHR denounced the conditions of confinement suffered by children in detention centers, the "excessive" periods spent in these facilities

Regarding the failure of Central American governments to prosecute human rights abusers, the PHR report recalls that ​​​​​​​children expressed their fear and distrust in their countries' authorities.

Estimates suggest that 89 percent of minors seeking asylum in the U.S. came from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. At least 78 percent of them said they had survived physical violence, 18 percent reported having survived sexual violence, 71 percent experienced threats of violence or death and 59 percent witnessed an act of violence.​​​​​​​

Such experiences, which are among the main reasons that drive Central American families to emigrate, these children suffer side effects that threaten their lives and well-being.​​​​, the doctors warned. 

"If persecution and violence are primary factors that influence migration, the harsh measures at the border will not serve as a deterrent and will only cause more harm in an already traumatized population," the Physicians for Human Rights warned.

About 60,000 child migrants have been detained by U.S. authorities between May 1 and June 10, Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan revealed Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Federal District Court in Tapachula, Mexico, decided Tuesday to release Cristobal Sanchez, a human rights defender who was arrested on June 5 for allegedly trafficking migrants.

His detention took place when Mexico was negotiating with the U.S. an agreement to postpone indefinitely the application of tariffs to its products in exchange for measures to contain the flow of Central American migrants.​​​​​​​

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