Central American migrants and refugees fleeing to Mexico and the US report murder, kidnappings and sexual violence

Nine in ten (92%) Central Americans fleeing from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to the United States and Mexico, seen by MSF mental health teams in 2015 and 2016, have lived through a violent event in their country of origin or whilst fleeing.


The data, which is some of the most comprehensive medical data available on migrants and refugees in Central  America, is published in a new report “Forced to Flee from the Northern Triangle of Central America: a Neglected Humanitarian Crisis” released today by the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontieres/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF).


Almost two in five (39%) people surveyed by MSF[1] mentioned direct attacks or threats to themselves or their families as well as extortion or gang-forced recruitment as the main reasons for fleeing their countries.


Populations are forced to contend with more violence along the route. Torture is inflicted by governmental security actors, they face aggressive deportation policies that disregard their need for assistance and protection and criminal organisations inflict extreme degrees of violence, including kidnapping. Around two in three (68%) surveyed reported being victims of violence during their transit in Mexico and nearly a third of women had been sexually abused.


MSF’s report also shows that access to comprehensive health care, treatment for sexual violence and mental health services along the journey is limited or non-existent.


A 35 year-old lady from Honduras told MSF:


“It’s the fourth time that I try to cross through Mexico, but this had never happened before. This time, I came with my neighbour, and we were both sequestrated by a group of delinquents. The worst part is that they were Hondurans too. The federal police was their accomplice, and each one of us was handed over to gang members. I was raped. They put a knife on my neck, so I did not resist. I am ashamed to say this, but I think it would have been better if they had killed me.”


Despite facing some of the worst violence in the world today, migrants and refugees from the Northern Triangle of Central America region are still mostly treated as economic migrants by countries of refuge such as Mexico or the United States. People forced to flee violence from this region have limited access to asylum status in the US and Mexico. 


Bertrand Rossier, MSF’s Head of Mission in Mexico says:


“The unrelenting violence and emotional suffering endured by a significant number of people on the move from the Northern Triangle of Central America is not unlike what is experienced by people in conflict zones where MSF has been working for decades.


“Murder, kidnappings, threats, recruitment by non-state armed actors, extortion, sexual violence and forced disappearance—these are the realities of war and conflicts also faced by people in this region of Central America.”


“While there are certainly people leaving these countries for better economic opportunities, the picture that emerges from our report is one of terrorized vulnerable people running for their lives and those of their families.


“Attempts to stem migration by strengthening national borders and increased detention or deportation, as we have seen in Mexico and in the US, ignore a genuine humanitarian crisis and do not curb smuggling and trafficking. These strategies have devastating consequences on the lives and health of people on the move.


“To play on public fears and merely view these people as a security or an economic issue is short sighted. This is a humanitarian crisis and MSF calls for urgent, coordinated action to ensure that people on the move are safe from violence and persecution, are welcomed with international protection rather than with more violence, and overall treated with dignity and humanity.”


MSF calls on governments across the region—mainly El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Canada and the US – to increase their formal resettlement and family reunification quotas so that people from the Northern Triangle of Central America, in need of international protection including asylum, can stop risking their lives and health.


MSF’s report presents two years of medical data, patient surveys and testimonies gathered by MSF teams through direct medical attention. The report illustrates the extreme level of violence experienced by people fleeing the NTCA, and the need for greater care and protection of people along the people migration and refugees route.




For more information or interview requests please contact Charlotte Morris, Press Officer, MSF UK on [email protected] or +44 7587 553539


Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the Northern Triangle of Central America

Since 2012, MSF has been providing medical and mental health care in Mexico to migrants and refugees fleeing Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, a region known as the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA). MSF has been adapting its intervention strategies from working in hostels, with mobile clinics at the rail way pit in various locations along Mexico’s migration and refugees routes, to a center for victims of extreme violence in Mexico City open in 2016 as a last strategy to respond to people on the move’s humanitarian and medical needs.


[1] 467 people surveyed in total 

About MSF UK

This is the press room for MSF UK - the UK office of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare. MSF offers assistance to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender or political affiliation.

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