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MEXICO – The number of migrant children arriving in Mexico hoping to enter the United States increased ninefold between January and March of this year, the United Nations Children’s Fund said on Monday, with an average of 275 minors entering the country every day.

The number of migrant children reported in Mexico rose to 3,500 at the end of March, from 380 at the start of the year, according to the Children’s Fund or UNICEF. The number includes data from Mexico’s National Migration Institute and other official sources, and provides a detailed snapshot of the crisis.

“I was heartbroken to see the suffering of so many young children, including babies, on the Mexican border with the United States,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, after concluding a five-day visit to Mexico. , where he visited the northern border with the United States.

The flow of minors is part of a larger migration crisis that has left U.S. officials struggling to control the border, with the Biden administration expecting more apprehensions at the border this year than at any time during over the past two decades.

The majority of migrants come from Central America, fleeing poverty, violence and climate disasters, including two back-to-back powerful hurricanes that devastated parts of Honduras and Guatemala last fall.

According to UNICEF, an estimated 275 migrant children arriving in Mexico each day include both those coming from Central America and those being deported from the United States to Mexico.

The United Nations agency found that children made up at least 30 percent of the migrant population in many Mexican shelters. Half of all children in shelters have traveled without their parents, one of the highest proportions on record in Mexico, according to UNICEF.

“Most of the shelters I have visited in Mexico are already overcrowded and cannot accommodate the growing number of children and families migrating north,” said Mr. Gough.

Although Mr Biden – considered friendlier to migrants than his predecessor – warned migrants not to make the trip because the border is closed, the message did not reach the average Central American citizen. Human smugglers across Central America prey on those desperate enough to make the journey, offering their services and saying migrants will be welcome in the United States.

But the border is not open and many migrants are returned to Mexico under a federal decree known as Title 42, introduced by the administration of Donald J. Trump but held in place by Mr. Biden. The order justifies the swift deportations as a health measure amid the pandemic, allowing the United States to bypass its obligations to asylum seekers.

The journey from Central America to Mexico is arduous. Families and unaccompanied minors often travel hundreds of kilometers on foot only to reach Mexico and be robbed, kidnapped for ransom or sexually abused by smugglers and criminal networks that stalk migrant corridors.

In its statement, UNICEF called on the international community to increase its support for Mexico, help it expand its shelter network and help migrants.

The United Nations agency also called on member organizations to increase aid to Central America, to improve the living conditions of the citizens of this region so that they do not feel obliged to migrate. This strategy is also being pursued by Mr Biden’s administration, which plans to spend $ 4 billion over the next four years on development programs in the region.

“Families in Central America are not migrating – they are fleeing,” Gough said.

“The best way to give migrant families a good reason to stay in their community is to invest in the future of their children at the local level,” he added. “The real children’s crisis is not at the American border, but in the poorest communities of northern Central America and Mexico.”

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