Mensajes de Autocuidado: ICRC Decreases the Vulnerability of Migrants

This week the Restoring Family Links Blog will focus on migration and the work of the global Red Cross to protect and support migrants. For more information about this work, check out the International Federation of the Red Cross' migration campaign #ProtectHumanity.

“Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.” - Sara Ahmed

Story by Lainey Schmidt, Intern, Washington, DC

As migration crises increase around the world, and especially in Central America, the global Red Cross Red Crescent Movement works to address the humanitarian needs of migrants. This work is incredibly varied: developing first aid and primary healthcare projects in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico; supporting activities to locate and identify missing migrant persons and assist their relatives; partnering with organizations that offer water, sanitation, and hygiene assistance to migrants; and of course, working through the Restoring Family Links program to encourage migrant persons to maintain contact with loved ones, and help reconnect when contact is lost.

The ICRC in Mexico has been involved in another activity to mitigate the suffering of migrants, and Marie-Astrid Blondiaux and Maria Puy Serra, who have been involved in the process, helped explain this effort. Together with the National Red Cross Societies of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, the ICRC has developed “Mensajes de Autocuidado,” a set of self-protection messages directed towards migrant populations. These Mensajes originally were developed in the form of leaflets, as seen below, but have also been adapted into radio spots, hopefully to reach a broader audience.

Reading through the Mensajes, it can be overwhelming to imagine being in the position of a migrant. These messages range from “Use resistant, comfortable, and closed-toed shoes,” to “Memorize the telephone numbers of your family members and friends, along with the country codes;” from “To endure the cold or rain, put a plastic cover over your clothing to preserve heat,” to “remain calm if the authorities detain you.” The overwhelming complexities of migration are made clear through these messages, making it vital that migrants receive this information.

ICRC determined the need for the Mensajes by talking directly to migrants. Marie-Astrid explained many Red Cross volunteers were receiving questions from migrants about where to find information. Though there is a large amount of material out there, it is not always easy to access or available at the right moment. Maria put the goal of the Mensajes plainly, “to provide the right information at the right time.”

A significant aspect of this goal is the Red Cross’ role as a community engager. This was essential not only in the creation stage of the Mensajes (when other community organizations and authorities were consulted about the materials), but also the distribution stage. In partnership with the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City, ICRC held a competition for students in the communication department to develop and produce the radio spots. 

Maria stressed that community engagement is the most important aspect of helping migrants and noted that it “should be the cornerstone of all humanitarian action.” Two-way communication, where channels are built to listen to the needs and concerns of migrants and those involved in civil society allows the Red Cross to have an active role in humanitarian action.

Map of services available to migrants along migration routes in Mexico as well as the border regions of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States.

In general, the leaflets have been distributed through assistance points, mobile clinics, ICRC field spots, other civil society actors (such as shelters and dining halls), and consulates. Marie-Astrid and Maria said that so far, everyone has reacted positively. Various actors in civil society have asked to receive the material or be added to the map of services, and there has been support and excitement from the Ministry of Public Education in Mexico, and the Chancellery in Honduras.

This support is largely due to the fact that the ICRC was diligent in involving authorities and other actors from the beginning of the project. As a nonpolitical, neutral Movement, the Red Cross is not aiming to produce materials that encourage or discourage migration, but as a humanitarian organization, the Movement has a role to play to decrease the vulnerabilities of migrants along the route by simply providing lifesaving information.

As Marie-Astrid so eloquently stated, “Migration is not going to come to an end, so it is really important to insist on the humanitarian needs of this very vulnerable population.” Regardless of reasons for migrating and surrounding circumstances, if people are going to migrate, the Movement has a humanitarian obligation to protect the dignity and lives of migrants.