The Unicef has warned of the dangers for migrant children who are being forcibly returned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since early March, at least 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children have been returned from the US to Mexico and El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras despite serious protection risks in their communities of origin aggravated by COVID-19, reports Xinhua news agency.
Over the same period, at least 447 migrant children were returned from Mexico to Guatemala and Honduras, the Unicef said on Thurday.
It warned that acts of violence and discrimination are being perpetrated against returnees perceived to have been infected with the disease and that they face major protection risks during their reintegration.
“For children on the move across the region, COVID-19 is making a bad situation even worse. Discrimination and attacks are now added to existing threats like gang violence that drove these children to leave in the first place,” said Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“This means many returned children are now doubly at risk and in even greater peril than when they left their communities. It is never in a child”s best interest to be sent back to an unsafe situation.”
Limited public information about COVID-19 testing, treatment and containment protocols in the region is causing confusion and fear among returnees and the general population.
In some communities, there are worries that children and families returned from the US and Mexico could be carrying the virus. This has led to further stigmatization of migrants, said the agency.
It has received reports of communities in Guatemala and Honduras barring physical entry to outside groups or strangers, including returnees, to prevent local transmission of the disease.
Unicef is calling on all governments to end pushbacks and deportations of unaccompanied or separated children, as well as children with their families without prior adequate protection and health screenings.