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Migrant camp in Matamoros

Migrants in Central America and Mexico face violence and abuse

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  • Migrants crossing through Mexico and Central America are in an unprecedented state of vulnerability, warns Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
  • MSF report details the abuses faced by migrants, caused mainly by discriminatory immigration legislation. 
  • MSF calls for a timely, adequate, and safe response to address the growing health and protection needs of migrants in the region.

MSF continues to provide diverse healthcare to migrants who have suffered numerous ailments and are in an unprecedented state of vulnerability while making the dangerous journey to the United States in search of a better life.  

Our report, Violence, desperation and abandonment on the migration route, details the abuses faced by migrants, caused mainly by discriminatory immigration legislation, which makes their route more difficult and risky.

The report highlights the medical-humanitarian impact of immigration policies and practices in Central America and Mexico, addressing the devastating consequences on the physical and mental health of migrants. 

Migrant camp in Tlahuac
An MSF doctor talks with a Haitian woman staying in the informal migrant camp in Tlahuac park, Mexico City. Mexico, 9 May 2023. 

MSF urgently calls for an improved medical-humanitarian response in the region with the aim of addressing the growing health and protection needs of migrants. 

Our report also underscores the increase in the migratory flow compared to previous years, the most prevalent diseases and mental health conditions noted in our medical consultations, the violence they face along their route and the insufficient institutional response. 

In addition, emphasis is placed on unmet basic needs, such as shelter, food, water and sanitation, medical needs, and violations of human rights throughout the migration experience. The urgency of a timely, adequate, and safe response to address the growing health and protection needs of migrants in the region is evident.

Migrant camp in Tlahuac
An MSF doctor looks out an informal migrant camp in Tlahuac Park, Mexico City. Mexico, 7 May 2023. 

Our teams provided more than 67,000 general and psychosocial health consultations between Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico in 2023, highlighting the increase in the physical and mental health needs suffered by people on the move.

These factors are even more worrying when noting the insufficiency in access to essential services. To make matters worse, there is an increase in the presence of entire families, as well as a 36 per cent increase in girls and boys under five, in comparison with 2022. 

Our report also highlights cases of violence, notably sexual violence, faced by migrants in Central America and Mexico. In 2023, we assisted 232 survivors of sexual violence, of them, only 10 per cent were treated within 72 hours after the event –  a period that is vital for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and other health problems. 

Knowing that the figures do not fully reflect reality, and that cases are under-reported, the lack of timely medical attention is deeply worrying. It is even more regrettable to note that many of these people flee their countries due to violence only to encounter other forms of violence and suffering on their journey in hope of a better future.

In 2023, in Central America and Mexico, MSF provided:

These factors, in addition to physical and emotional fatigue, show the negative impact of the migratory experience on the mental health of migrants. Of the almost 3,800 mental health consultations provided by MSF in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, 48 per cent note acute stress as the main diagnosis, followed by cases of depression (12 per cent), anxiety (11 per cent), post-traumatic stress disorder (8 per cent), among others. 

In addition, violence appeared as the main cause affecting people’s emotional state in more than half of the initial mental health consultations we have provided. This is then followed by the separation or loss of family members and other medical conditions. 

In terms of physical health, the report emphasises the respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases that affect migrants throughout their journeys, but especially in Honduras and Guatemala. It also details the gaps in care for chronic diseases, which need continuity in their treatment. 

Migrants with these conditions usually seek more care in Mexican territory, particularly in cities bordering the United States. There have been three times more consultations for hypertension and two times more consultations for diabetes in Mexico than in Honduras and Guatemala. 

MSF calls for better security management for migrants, and the guarantee of access to healthcare and essential services without discrimination, in addition to eradicating impunity in cases of violence, sexual violence and human trafficking against them.

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Report 24 May 2024