Quest of migrant girls to reach US particularly fraught with peril

By Juan Manuel Blanco

Tapachula, Mexico, Mar 25 (EFE).- Migrant girls from the Latin American and Caribbean region, especially those who travel unaccompanied, are at heightened risk of rape, sexual abuse and human trafficking in their bid to reach the United States, a tragic reality that various non-governmental organizations are trying to combat.

“My country is full of gangs, and they’re dangerous because they go around killing (people). And even a boy tried to hit us,” Maria, an 11-year-old Salvadoran girl who uses that fictitious name for her safety and is receiving assistance from a Surrey, England-based NGO known as Plan International, told Efe on Friday.

The minor and her mother embarked weeks ago on a journey from El Salvador to the southeastern Mexican border city of Tapachula, an initial stop on a route they hope will take them to the Mexico-US border and eventually onto US soil.

That region has been experiencing a large-scale migrant wave since 2018, when tens of thousands of people began traveling northward in caravans from Central America.

Mexico deported more than 114,000 undocumented migrants in 2021, according to the Government Secretariat’s Migration Policy Unit, while the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid (Comar) received a record 131,448 asylum applications last year, more than 51,000 of them from Haitian migrants.

The young girl’s mother – Ana (also a fictitious name) – said she and her daughter fled their country due to harassment by gangs, who had robbed them of their meager savings.

“Our journey took around 15 days, but the most important thing was to take care of my daughter and get her to a safe place,” the woman said.

Ana said that after crossing the Mexico-Guatemala border they were fortunate to meet up with a person who offered them a place to spend the night, adding that the following day they took up residence at a migrant shelter.

“My dream is to see my daughter succeed, because we’re in a country (Mexico) that provides opportunities if you seek them out. Because in our country you don’t have that because of all the gangs,” she said.

The mother and daughter are currently living in Tapachula, located near the Guatemalan border and the Pacific Ocean in Chiapas state, while trying to regularize their status in Mexico.

Thousands of migrants have reported living in precarious conditions in that city for weeks or even months while waiting for immigration officials to respond to their requests for asylum.

In that context, Ana said Plan International has provided essential aid that has enabled her and her daughter to cover their basic needs.

Karla Gonzalez, the project coordinator for Plan International in Tapachula, told Efe that girls and boys – both accompanied and unaccompanied – arrive in that town from different countries of the region for various reasons, including violence and extreme poverty.

“It’s a migration that’s forced and driven by the needs that exist in their countries, by structural violence and by organized crime,” the activist said.

Plan International works there with a local partner that attends to individual cases to ensure the wellbeing of children and those around them and has provided assistance to some 1,000 minors since 2021.

Gonzalez says many minors arrive in Tapachula after a weeks-long journey with a range of health problems, including dehydration and serious illnesses.

Their situation is aggravated by a lack of doctors, medicine and medical supplies in that border city.

“Children are arriving with encephalitis and even some types of disabilities that require much better, more comprehensive, care,” she said.

In response, Plan International is working with ChildFund International, EDUCO and other local partners on a program known as Camino Protegido, which provides different types of aid to migrant children and their families across multiple areas, including humanitarian assistance, sexual health and reproductive care and general information about immigration proceedings

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