NEW YORK, May 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Almost all of the estimated 500,000 migrants who travel into Mexico each year, fleeing poverty and danger in Central America, are victims of violence along their journey, a leading charity said on Thursday.
Torture, kidnapping and sexual assault are common along the route north for many who already suffered attacks, threats, extortion or forced gang recruitment at home, said the report by Médecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
“The picture that emerges from our report is one of terrorized vulnerable people running for their lives and those of their families,” Bertrand Rossier, MSF’s Head of Mission in Mexico, said in a statement.
Most of the migrants are trying to escape the so-called Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where violence, much gang-related, has created a “staggering” refugee crisis, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said last year.
Nine out of 10 people fleeing Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in 2015 and 2016 were victims of violence along the route, MSF said.
Nearly two out of five people said the violence occurred in their home countries, and two-thirds said they suffered violence in Mexico that included torture by security forces, aggressive detention and deportation policies and kidnapping by criminal organizations.
Nearly one third of women reported sexual abuse.
Medical care, treatment for sexual violence and mental health services along the route are limited or non-existent, the report said.
To address the crisis, governments in the region, including the United States, Mexico and Canada, must allow more people to resettle from Central America, MSF said. Specifically, they should increase resettlement and family reunification quotas.
In the United States, President Donald Trump has taken a hard line toward immigration, vowing to tighten borders, crackdown on migrants without proper documents and speed up deportations.
He also wants to build a wall along the border with Mexico.
“Attempts to stem migration by strengthening national borders and increased detention or deportation, as we have seen in Mexico and in the U.S., ignore a genuine humanitarian crisis and do not curb smuggling and trafficking,” Rossier said.
“These strategies have devastating consequences on the lives and health of people on the move.”
Of the refugees and migrants surveyed, nearly half said a family member had died violently in the last two years.
Slightly more than half the Salvadorans said they had been a victim of blackmail or extortion, a far higher rate than migrants from Honduras or Guatemala, it said.
The report, "Forced to Flee from the Northern Triangle of Central America: a Neglected Humanitarian Crisis," is a compilation of two years' worth of medical data, patient surveys and testimonies collected by MSF teams providing medical care. (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)