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Humanitarian Service Points (HSP) for Migrants in Transit

Primary GCM Objectives

Secondary GCM Objectives


GCM Guiding Principles*

*All practices are to uphold the ten guiding principles of the GCM. This practice particularly exemplifies these listed principles.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


2011 - Present

Type of practice


Geographic scope



Human movement in the Americas has skyrocketed in recent years. Migration and displacement in the region are precipitated by severe climate events and climate change, insecurity, violence, and political and economic upheaval. In an effort to support people on the move across migration routes, the Red Cross National Societies in the region offer humanitarian service points (HSP) at strategic areas along the routes. HSP are a flagship intervention of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement globally, and are meant to be safe, welcoming spaces where migrants and displaced people can access humanitarian assistance and protection from National Societies. In Mexico, the idea behind HSP has its roots in a local initiative in the state of Sonora on the borders with the United States, where, in the early 2000s, the Mexican Red Cross observed migrants suffering from severe dehydration, snake and insect bites, cuts to the skin due to cacti, and heatstroke. The Mexican Red Cross launched the Sasabe initiative to support these migrants. This model subsequently evolved into HSP in 2011, following a needs assessment undertaken by ICRC that found that the humanitarian consequences experienced by migrants were similar to those seen in war settings, such as extreme violence, kidnappings, extortion, coupled with the challenging and potentially dangerous topography of Mexico and Central America. When HSP began at border points in Mexico, the initial focus was on providing basic physical health services in ambulances that had been equipped to serve as medical offices. Over the years, the focus has expanded to a more holistic understanding of health (including mental health and psychosocial services (MHPSS) among others). Now, some HSP are larger vehicles with a capacity for two medical offices, a central office, as well as trailer cabins. The HSP provide mobile, fixed and semi-fixed services. HSP aim to provide migrants with basic humanitarian assistance and protection in a safe, welcoming, and strategically located space. They can be mobile vehicles, semi-fixed, or fixed facilities that are located at strategically located points along migration routes. In Central America and Mexico, the Red Cross National Societies currently operate a network of 22 HSP: six in Guatemala, ten in Mexico, five in Honduras, and one in Panama. The services offered at HSP can differ, but most offer basic medical care, basic mental health and psychosocial services, food and water, non-food items, Restoring family Links services, and information. The registration system for the HSP collects information disaggregated by gender and disability in order to adapt the protection messages. Referrals are also available for cases requiring support beyond what is offered at HSP. The HSP are the result of joint efforts between components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movementto continuously strengthen capacity, adapt, and improve access to services.


Main Implementing Organization(s)

The Red Cross National Societies

Detailed Information

The Red Cross National Societies

Benefit and Impact

The services provided at HSP in Mexico and Central America can be seen as life-saving on multiple levels. The health services serve to mitigate severe health risks, and enable identification of severe medical issues that, without more specialised medical attention, could cause death. This is particularly important in Mexico, where many migrants undertaking irregular journeys are hesitant to approach the government health services due to fear of deportation, and therefore are more likely to not seek care even when it is badly needed. Importantly, the services offered have evolved over time from basic medical care to a more comprehensive suite of services, in line with the recognition that migrants needed to access services in one space and had many needs.

Additionally, the phone calls offered by HSP enable migrants to contact family members and loved ones, crucial to supporting the mental well-being of migrants and can additionally be helpful to prevent family separation. At HSP, migrants are urged to inform family members and friends of their whereabouts in Mexico, which is highly important if migrants later go missing. Additionally, HSP staff in Mexico urge families travelling together to develop a plan in case of eventual separation, including where they might meet and who should be notified.

The information (including the self-protection messages) is intended to enable migrants to stay safe and mitigate dangerous risks. While it is challenging to quantify the impact of these self-care messages, their intent to orient people geographically, offer information on their rights and services available on the route, the risks associated with the journey (such as the potential of drowning when crossing the river from Mexico into the United States), and first aid information is meant to prevent loss of life.

Key Lessons

As with other humanitarian services for migrants, having a secure source of funding to maintain the HSP and provide services is challenging. The Red Cross are now working to diversify their partners in order to continue operating the HSP. Delegations at national and local levels have been strengthened so they can support the HSP better and identify sources of fundings, while teams at the local level are trained to seek local resources to complement the international funding the HSP receive from the IFRC and their donors.

Given the highly politicised nature of migration in Mexico and Central America, ensuring the respect of humanitarian principles can be challenging. This highly politicised nature of migration policy also means that migrants may be hesitant to approach official services in the region, regardless of the service provider.

Recommendations(if the practice is to be replicated)

Given the dynamic and changing nature of migration routes, key informants interviewed noted that it is critical to continuously assess needs of the population and ensure that the services provided are relevant, and to update any service protocols. In this sense, they stressed that teams should understand the context well and establish strong working relationships with other organisations and service providers. Additionally, an advantage of HSP is the suite of services available in one space so that migrants can rapidly receive support without going to multiple services. The Red Cross also notes that security of the HSP is critical, as migrants will only access services if they feel safe doing so and this can be very challenging as well for the HSP staff and volunteers. The Mexican Red Cross notes that, given that HSP operate near strategic points on migration routes that may not be safe and that they interact with different actors, it is critical that staff and volunteers understand and uphold humanitarian principles to be able to continue to operate. The National Society also highlights the continuous efforts from the components of the Movement to work with governmental and non-governmental organizations to protect and respect the humanitarian space.


During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, some HSP were suspended to protect staff and volunteers, while those that remained open were equipped with personal protection equipment for staff, volunteers, and people in transit. The HSP also sensitised people on COVID-19 and referred suspected cases to hospitals, worked with shelters remotely to strengthen COVID-19 protocols, and assessed whether flows had moved to other routes.
One of the most challenging aspects of responding to the humanitarian needs of migrants in distress is the changing nature of routes and the ebb and flow of people. As such, a key advantage of the HSP is that they are dynamic and adaptable to each context, and can be moved when migration routes change so that humanitarian services are immediately available in areas where there is a high concentration of migrants, such as near train or bus stations. In Mexico, mobile HSP have a specific area of coverage and make efforts to follow a schedule so that migrants can expect the HSP to be available at specific times. The mobile modality enables HSP to change their schedule and areas of coverage at times of high flows, such as was done with the large influx of people moving through in 2018.
This adaptive response falls in line with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s efforts to follow a route-based approach in their migration programming, or what the Movement refers to as “a commonality of approaches within the Movement across the countries along the migratory route.” Key themes of the route-based approach converge on the following elements related to the continuity of care across migration routes:
The idea that migrants be able to access services and protection throughout their journey;
That they be aware of where they might go to do this along the routes they are taking;
For service providers to be creating and strengthening linkages between countries on the route to enable this to happen.

While there are many challenges associated with applying a route-based approach, it arguably enables the Red Cross to provide continuity of care to migrants along the arduous migration routes in the Americas. The Mexican Red Cross points to the added value of working within the framework of the RCRC Movement, explaining that people arriving in Mexico have already received care from an HSP in Panama, and they know where they can go for support when they continue on their journey.

Date submitted:

03 October 2023

Disclaimer: The content of this practice reflects the views of the implementers and does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, the United Nations Network on Migration, and its members.



*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).