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Humanitarian Action for Children 2021 - Children on the move and COVID-19 in Mexico and Central America

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  • Prior to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, Mexico and countries in Central Americawere facing significant humanitarian needs related to migration flows, violence, internal displacement, food insecurity and poverty. The pandemic could push 10 million additional people into poverty,leaving millions of children dependent on humanitarian assistance.

  • UNICEF will address the specific needs of at least 251,000 people in the context of human mobility in border areas/routes/transit points, in communities of origin and return, and at final destinations; while ensuring that the most vulnerable children, families and communities are protected from exposure to and the impacts of COVID-19.

  • UNICEF is requesting US$59.7 million to expand its support to children and families in the context of human mobility and address COVID-19-related humanitarian needs. Anticipated results include the safe return to school; nutritional support; and the provision of sanitation and hygiene services and supplies.


In parts of Central America, forced recruitment, gang violence and crime are daily realities for children.These issues are often compounded by poverty and limited access to quality education.

Irregular migration flows continue to affect the subregion, with thousands experiencing urgent needs, including 87,000 unaccompanied children and 446,000 family units apprehended/expelled at the southwestern border of the United States of America, between January 2019 and August 2020.Between 2018 and 2019, the number of apprehended families increased by 160 per cent.In Mexico, refugee applications increased 20-fold between 2015 and 2019.Over 470,000 people from northern Central America have sought asylum/refuge worldwide.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 5,000 children (60 per cent unaccompanied) have been returned to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico from the United States and Mexico.In Panama, there has been a six-fold increase in the number of extra-continental migrant children crossing the Darien Gap over the past two years, and 2,500 migrants were stranded at border sites due to COVID-19.

The rights of migrant women and children to basic services, including shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), food, protection, education and health care, are frequently violated in countries of origin, transit, destination and return. The policies adopted by some governments have also impacted children’s access to safety and international protection.

As of August 2020, the countries included in this appeal have recorded 895,000 COVID-19 cases and 72,000 deaths.The existing socio-economic dynamics in these countries, including poverty, social and gender inequalities, violence, displacement, food insecurity,malnutritionand climate shocks,have increased vulnerability to the pandemic.

Children and families have been devastated by the humanitarian and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, including the extended lockdowns, school closures, the cessation of essential economic activities, declining migrant remittances,and rising violence against children and women.As economies contract, an additional 10 million people could fall into poverty and thousands of families will rely on humanitarian assistance to cover basic needs. More than 42 million students have been affected by school closures and substantial investment is needed to ensure the safe reopening and operation of schools.

Children affected by human mobility are at heightened risk due to the impacts of COVID-19, with limited or no access to safe water, sanitation and essential services. The crisis has also restricted access to international protection and regular migration pathways.