Mexico and Central America

© Olivier Papegnies


people migrate between Central America and Mexico every year

25 %

of the migrants are women

15 %

of the migrants are children and adolescents

Médecins du Monde’s emergency response includes a range of humanitarian assistance programmes. Find out more below about our work and missions in Mexico and Central America.


The migration crisis, the appalling migrant reception conditions and the very high levels of gender-based violence in Central America require humanitarian action on a large scale.



    Central America and Mexico form a corridor with one of the largest constant flows of migrants in transit anywhere in the world.


    Around 450,000 people migrate between Central America and Mexico every year. Increasingly, they include families, women and children fleeing poverty, violence and insecurity linked to organised crime, gang violence and certain elements of the law enforcement agencies.


    The extensive violence and impunity in this region have compounded the cross-border migration crisis by increasing the number of internally displaced people.


    2021 was marked by a worsening refugee crisis in Mexico, with more and more people in need of international protection and a record number of asylum claims in the country. Overall, 131,448 people submitted new claims to the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR), of whom 72.6% were in the state of Chiapas.


    Although migration policies in Central America were already repressive, border controls have been further tightened. In 2019, the United States exerted pressure to get agreements signed with Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, all of which aimed to curb irregular migration. These measures led to the closure of migration routes, the militarisation of borders and increased deportations and detention of asylum seekers. This has resulted in making migrants extremely vulnerable, not only on their migration journeys but also in the context of forced returns.


    In August 2021, a migrant caravan left Tapachula for Mexico but was violently repressed by the National Guard and anti-riot police. At the same time, there was an acceleration in deportations from the United States of people of all nationalities and Mexico also agreed to receive deported Haitians.


    In addition, during 2021 the changes to Mexican migration policy resulting from the agreement with the United States mean that thousands of African migrants, primarily Haitians (estimated at around 18,000) have been stranded in the city of Tapachula. There has also been no reduction in the flows of people coming from Central America. The majority of these migrants are extremely vulnerable and in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.


    Mexico has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the OECD countries. The number of femicides has risen in recent years to total 922 in 2021. Furthermore, the country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy among OECD members.


    Health needs associated with their sex, gender, sexuality and reproduction are especially high among female migrants, whether in their countries of origin, on their migration journey or once they have arrived in Mexico. They are exposed to specific healthcare needs connected, among other things, with gender-based violence and sexual violence, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and maternal healthcare.

Equipe de police à côté d'un camp de migrants au Mexique © Olivier Papegnies

© Olivier Papegnies

A police squad in Tapachula, Mexico

The COVID-19 crisis and its repercussions


    Already in the grips of a fragile humanitarian situation, Mexico faced a new crisis when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Because migrant communities were not seen as a priority group in the context of the health emergency, they faced even greater barriers than before in accessing physical and mental healthcare.


    Migrants often encounter discrimination and language barriers as they migrate from one continent to another. They struggle to navigate the complex state healthcare system in Mexico and are sometimes refused access to medical care. They need access to prevention measures and specific, coordinated care which is why the deployment of emergency medical assistance was required in Mexico. Médecins du Monde worked to provide a humanitarian response in the country to tackle this unprecedented situation.


    The Covid-19 pandemic had a major impact on the healthcare system, with a general deterioration in the right to access care through the state healthcare system and very limited access for those requiring non-Covid-related care. This applied in particular to sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) services and domestic and gender-based violence services. In the area of mental health, the pandemic also highlighted existing needs and exacerbated others which arose due to the measures introduced to control Covid-19.


    Shelters for migrants run by civil society organisations (CSO) or religious organisations were already crowded due to the rise in the numbers of migrants, asylum seekers and people in transit. In 2020, during the pandemic, many of these facilities closed their doors or limited the numbers of people they would admit which led to an increase in the numbers of people on the streets during this period. The re-opening in 2021 was a very slow, gradual process and the quality of services had declined.



Since 2016 Médecins du Monde France and Spain have been running a humanitarian programme in Mexico which aims to ensure access to healthcare and protection for migrants and internally displaced people in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico. The programme is based on three main elements – supporting public institutions, strengthening advocacy and providing medical aid to Mexico.


    Médecins du Monde works with public institutions in Mexico to help them improve their response to the needs of these target populations and those of civil society organisations.


    We also work to encourage the institutions’ participation in public policy development and to improve the provision of psychosocial support for these communities. This highlights the importance of working in partnership with the local authorities.


    Médecins du Monde seeks to boost the development and review of public policies on access to healthcare for migrants and internally displaced people. As a key element of our humanitarian work in Mexico, this advocacy seeks to sound the alarm and define action plan priorities.


    After three years of implementing this programme, Médecins du Monde has partnership agreements with seven public institutions, 11 non-governmental civil society organisations and seven grassroots welfare organisations composed of migrants who have been expelled and the families of migrants who have disappeared. These organisations work along different stages of the migration route.


    In 2021, Médecins du Monde also responded to the humanitarian needs of Central American migrant caravans and stranded African migrants. We provided rehydration and hygiene supplies and medicines, as well as making medical staff available to organisations responsible for managing the situation, particularly the shelters which found themselves overwhelmed by these population flows.


    We work with the most vulnerable migrants (unaccompanied children and adolescents and people who have been forcibly displaced) who are cared for by the programmes run by our partners.


    The teams provide primary and mental healthcare for shelters accommodating hundreds of migrants, centres housing asylum seekers and migrants living on the streets.


    To supplement the care available for patients, Médecins du Monde is assisting the work of 11 local healthcare facilities by supporting the teams working at them and ensuring the distribution of medical supplies and drugs. During the Covid-19 emergency, the care provided was adapted and information and awareness-raising activities were undertaken to help vulnerable communities take measures to protect themselves from the virus.


    In 2021, following confirmation of new financial partnerships with UNHCR and the European Union, Médecins du Monde worked to improve access to care for GBV survivors from migrant communities. The programme provided an integrated response to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence for asylum seekers, refugees and those granted complementary protection.


    In the state of Colima, Médecins du Monde runs a sexual and reproductive health (SRH) programme to improve the prevention of and response to gender-based violence. The teams take part in and support awareness-raising campaigns and work to promote the rights of women and girls, young people and the LGBTQI+ community.


    In 2021, through our humanitarian mission in Mexico we:

    • provided care and treatment to 1,507 migrants,
    • provided 55 primary healthcare consultations in the context of the migrant caravans,
    • provided care to 240 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence,
    • provided 746 psychosocial consultations,
    • supported training at 7 local facilities and 11 public institutions,
    • delivered awareness-raising sessions about Covid-19 prevention and protection measures for 250 people
  • 1998
    Programme on access to healthcare for the indigenous communities of Los Altos de Chiapas, Mexico.
  • 2004
    Emergency intervention following Hurricane Stan, Mexico.
  • 2007
    Emergency intervention for victims of flooding in Tabasco, Mexico.
  • 2011
    Launch of a programme on access to healthcare for migrant sex workers and domestic workers, Mexico.
  • 2016
    Opening of a regional programme to improve access to healthcare for migrants and people who have been expelled, El Salvador – Guatemala – Honduras – Mexico.
  • 2020
    Distribution of protective equipment and awareness-raising about protection measures to slow the spread of Covid-19.