UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply shocked to see the heartbreaking photo of the drowned bodies of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria from El Salvador washed up on the banks of the Rio Grande.

While the details remain uncertain, what is clear is that the circumstances that led to this tragedy are unacceptable. Less than four years after the world witnessed the lifeless body of a Syrian refugee toddler, Alan Kurdi, washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean, we are once again confronted with shocking evidence of people dying in search of safety.

“The deaths of Oscar and Valeria represent a failure to address the violence and desperation pushing people to take journeys of danger for the prospect of a life in safety and dignity,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said. “This is compounded by the absence of safe pathways for people to seek protection, leaving people with no other choice than to risk their lives.”

As crime and violence continues in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the number of unaccompanied children and families forced to flee in search of safety increases.

What is UNHCR doing to help?

The UN Refugee Agency is on the ground providing shelter, protection and emergency assistance to these families, but the needs continue to grow. 

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UNHCR also continues to call on all countries in the region to take immediate and coordinated steps to prevent further tragedies like this from occurring. UNHCR has also offered proposals on ways to improve and strengthen processing of asylum-seekers in the United States, including conditions in detention. We remain ready to support all governments in the region in ensuring that any person in need of international protection receives it promptly and without obstruction.

Girl traveling with from Central America holds her belongings while making her way to safety © Ritzau Scanpix


This heart-wrenching photo is a tragic visual reminder of the desperation that leads many people across the region and the world to set out on perilous journeys in order to find safety.

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