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Fact Check: Rumor Alleges the Red Cross Provides Maps and Resources for Migrants Traveling North to the US-Mexico Border. Here Are the Facts

LUIS ACOSTA/AFP via Getty Images
LUIS ACOSTA/AFP via Getty Images

Claim:

The Red Cross provides migrants traveling north to the Southwest U.S. border a pamphlet that includes a map and "self-care messages."

Rating:

Rating: True
Rating: True

Context:

The pamphlets are specifically provided by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), not the U.S.-based American Red Cross. A spokesperson for the ICRC told Snopes by email that the organization "does not prevent nor does it encourage migration." Rather, it aims to "help prevent and mitigate the humanitarian consequences that migration can bring – including separation and loss of family contacts, disappearances, serious medical issues and even death."

 

In the U.S., the American Red Cross is perhaps best known for its blood-donation drives and for providing aid following natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires. Its humanitarian efforts are "part of a global network dedicated to relieving human suffering," according to the organization's website.

In other words, the American Red Cross is just one of many chapters under the umbrella of the international Red Cross and Red Crescent network. That vast network includes three central parts. One of those parts is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has published that it has 20,000 staff members in over 100 countries who are meant to help those "affected by armed conflict and violence."

Conflict and violence are two reasons families and persons might migrate, according to the website for the American Red Cross. Three other mentioned reasons for migration include human rights violations, a lack of economic prospects and natural disasters.

This brings us to the rumor at hand, which claims the "Red Cross" is providing maps and resources to migrants who plan to continue moving north through Central America and Mexico with the goal of reaching the Southwest U.S. border.

For example, on Feb. 6, 2024, X user @PecanC8 posted an image of one such map. The user wrote of the image, "Remember this next time the Red Cross asks for money. That will be a hard no from me." Many other users posted the same claim and sentiment on X, Instagram and Facebook.

It's true the ICRC – not the American Red Cross – provides to some migrants either printed or digitally downloaded pamphlets. Those materials include a map that on one side shows the Southwest U.S. border, Mexico and Central America, as well as "self-care messages" for survival, health and communication needs on the reverse side. At the same time, this statement of fact has quite a bit of context behind it. Importantly, context regarding hot-button American political issues like immigration is often missing from both online discussions and cropped screenshots of fact-check ratings posted on social media.

Statements from American Red Cross and ICRC

Both the American Red Cross and ICRC told Snopes by email the Red Cross "does not prevent nor does it encourage migration." Rather, they said they aim to "help prevent and mitigate the humanitarian consequences that migration can bring – including separation and loss of family contacts, disappearances, serious medical issues and even death."

A spokesperson for the ICRC continued, "The map and safe-care messages are not instructions on how to migrate; our approach to migration is strictly humanitarian. We provide information about ways to reduce risk and where to find lifesaving assistance. It is essential to prevent the loss of lives and to promote a humanitarian approach. Addressing the needs of this vulnerable population is a shared responsibility, of the authorities in the countries of origin, transit and destination, and of the international community."

One word was repeated several times in our correspondence with the ICRC: "lifesaving."

A spokesperson for the American Red Cross also added, "Erroneous claims and incendiary misinformation can have very real consequences on the ability to provide humanitarian aid. We encourage the public to verify what they see, read and hear before sharing."

Pamphlet Side One: The Map

The ICRC website provides downloadable links for the pamphlet in several languages, including an English-language PDF file. The material was first made available in 2015.

The map's legend includes colors for climates and markers for free services, train routes and rivers. Beyond that, the map is very limited in that it does not include roadways or any other markings.

"The maps and self-care messages are not instructions on which routes or transport migrants should use," the ICRC spokesperson told Snopes.

The free services marked on the map include eight types of locations for basic needs, including shelters, food, medical assistance, free phone calls, internet services, help regarding orientation and information, transportation and orthopedic care.

Out of the 87 total locations marked on the map, only five were marked as containing transportation services. Those five locations are all located in Honduras and Panama, well over 1,000 miles from the U.S.

"We work to reduce the factors that contribute to the vulnerability of the migrant population," the ICRC spokesperson said. "Access to information reduces the risks and mitigates the humanitarian consequences that migrants face, particularly the most vulnerable. Knowing the location of a shelter or medical services, for example, can make a significant difference to a migrant and in some cases can save their lives."

Pamphlet Side Two: 'Self-care Messages'

The opposite side of the pamphlet displaying "self-care messages" mostly provides humanitarian information. For example, some of the pamphlet advises how migrants can avoid medical emergencies and death, while other parts advise them about their rights and to keep in touch with their family during their journey.

The pamphlet advises that, if migrants dangerously attempt to ride on the outside of a freight train for example, they should take special care to prevent injuries and death.

"While onboard a freight train or any other freight vehicle, it is recommended that you remain seated," the pamphlet reads, in one of several tips about surviving freight train rides. "Be careful and look out for any branches, electrical cables or tunnels that could hit you or cause you to fall. Sit where you can hold on to something."

Additionally, the pamphlet provides information for migrants who have become a victim of "sexual violence" and advises they drink water, avoid drowning in rivers, avoid traveling in extreme temperatures, memorize important telephone numbers and take special care of their identification documents, among other helpful tips.

Where Can Migrants Obtain Printed Pamphlets?

The ICRC spokesperson told Snopes it provides paper versions of the pamphlets "in shelters, food distribution sites and healthcare clinics run by the National Red Cross Societies, as well as to other organizations that conduct activities related to people who are migrating." They also said they "collaborate with different authorities in the Mexico and Central America to deliver self-care messages and information on essential services available to migrants."

How Many Pamphlets Have Been Distributed?

In 2020, the ICRC reported for the year 2019 it had printed and distributed 10,000 of the paper pamphlets containing the map and "self-care messages." It also sent 10,600 digital "self-care messages" via WhatsApp.

During the same year, the website for U.S. Customs and Border Protection published data saying its officials had encountered around 800,000 migrants during the 2019 calendar year.

Snopes was unable to locate similar data regarding pamphlet distribution for a more recent year. Further, and importantly, we were unable to obtain annual download numbers for the digital versions of the pamphlets.

Was American Red Cross Involved with the Pamphlet?

Snopes asked the American Red Cross if its specific U.S.-based chapter of the Red Cross was ever involved with the pamphlets provided for migrants. In response, a spokesperson for the organization told us its logo was once visible on the pamphlet for a limited period of time during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The American Red Cross logo came off the pamphlet at the conclusion of our term-limited COVID-19 program," the spokesperson told us by email. "The American Red Cross [had] partnered with the Mexican Red Cross to support COVID-related health and hygiene for migrants."

What Does American Red Cross Do for Migrants?

The American Red Cross provides "basic aid" on an "as needed" basis at the U.S.-Mexico border and in U.S. cities. On its website, it says, "As a humanitarian organization, we do not turn away anyone in need."

Depending on the circumstances, the American Red Cross might provide relief supplies and training. Supplies and services can include food, water, comfort, health services, mental health support, cots, blankets, hygiene items, first aid kits and towels.

In other words, the organization seeks to meet the basic and immediate needs of people who potentially just completed a journey of well over 1,000 miles. Phones have also been provided "in some cases," so migrants can "reconnect with family members back home to let them know they're safe, all according to the American Red Cross website page titled, "How Does the American Red Cross Help Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers?"

How is American Red Cross Funded?

As previously noted, some online users who were negatively critical of the Red Cross effort to minimize injuries and deaths of migrants said they would no longer donate to the organization, apparently referring to the American Red Cross.

According to the website for the American Red Cross, it primarily receives financial support "from voluntary public contributions and cost-recovery charges." The organization also specifies while it "does not receive federal funding on a regular basis," it does sometimes, "under limited circumstances," receive some state and federal funds.

Sources:

"How Does the American Red Cross Help Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers?" American Red Cross, https://www.redcross.org/about-us/news-and-events/news/how-does-the-american-red-cross-help-migrants.html.

Jones, Kelly. "Yes, the Red Cross Has Provided Maps to Migrants Traveling towards the U.S. Border." KGW.com, 12 Mar. 2024, https://www.kgw.com/article/news/verify/immigration/yes-the-red-cross-has-provided-maps-to-migrants-traveling-towards-the-us-border/536-677f0581-b629-4243-b515-2e1606af45f2.

"Mexico: Migration and Displacement." International Committee of the Red Cross, 11 June 2020, https://www.icrc.org/en/document/mexico-migration-and-displacement.

"México y Centroamérica: mensajes de autocuidado impresos y digitales para personas migrantes." Comité Internacional de la Cruz Roja, 20 Mar. 2019, https://www.icrc.org/es/document/mexico-personas-migrantes-reciben-por-whatsapp-mensajes-de-autocuidado-para-prevenir-los.

"Migration & Refugee Crisis." American Red Cross, https://www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/international-services/migration-and-refugee-crisis.html.

"Our Federal Charter." American Red Cross, https://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/history/federal-charter.html.

@RedCross. X, 26 Mar. 2023, https://twitter.com/RedCross/status/1640061932148277253.

"Southwest Border Migration FY 2019." U.S. Customs and Border Protection, https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/sw-border-migration/fy-2019.

"Southwest Border Migration FY 2020." U.S. Customs and Border Protection, https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/sw-border-migration-fy2020.

The Global Red Cross Network. https://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/history/global-red-cross-network.html.

"Where We Work." International Committee of the Red Cross, https://www.icrc.org/en/where-we-work.