UNICEF warns of malnutrition and disease risk for migrant children in Mexican camp

A migrant child rests on the shoulder of her father as migrants wait to receive help from the Mexican government to obtain humanitarian visas to transit through Mexican territory, in Tapachula, Mexico December 6, 2021. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Thousands of migrant children and adolescents living in a makeshift camp in southern Mexico are at risk of malnutrition, disease and potentially being separated from their families, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday.

Camping outside a soccer stadium in the southern city of Tapachula, thousands of migrants including many children are awaiting responses to their requests for asylum or humanitarian visas.

Pressia Arifin-Cabo, deputy representative for UNICEF Mexico, said in a recorded video that the situation is critical.

"There are many people and right now that's very concerning because of COVID," she said. "There's also a lot of garbage, there are no places where they can access water, where they can wash or attend to their nutritional needs."

Arifin-Cabo also said UNICEF is particularly worried about the possibility of family separation, adding that many families lost documents during their travels north.

Tapachula has become a meeting point for tens of thousands of migrants leaving in caravans to the north of the country.

Mexican authorities have been attempting to dismantle the camp near the border with Guatemala and started to transfer migrants from Tapachula to other regions, promising to regularize their situation.

Mexico's immigration authority and the government agency responsible for providing assistance to children and adolescents did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Some 40% of the 84,600 refugee applicants in Mexico are minors, according to official data.

Many hope to eventually request asylum in United States, which last week relaunched the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) that obliges asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. immigration hearings.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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