Migrant caravan camps overflow in Mexico

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Mexico is reversing its promise to give better treatment to Central American migrants, leaving hundreds stranded in unhealthy fields near its southern border.

Mapastepec.- Mexico is backtracking on its promise to give better treatment to Central American migrants, leaving hundreds stranded in unhealthy fields near its southern border and encouraging accusations of irregular detentions.

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President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised more humane treatment when he took office in December. His left government issued thousands of one-year humanitarian visas in January, giving migrants legal access to jobs and the right to cross the territory to the United States.

However, surprised by the increase in migrants, the López Obrador government is resorting to old tactics based on a harsher application of the law.

Mexico has suspended the policy of granting visas and arrests of migrants heading north have risen, according to government data, following criticism by US President Donald Trump for the increase in February of asylum seekers who arrived in the country. the American border.

Trump, who is expected to make border security the center of his campaign for reelection in 2020, has vowed to limit trade with Mexico if the country does not help curb immigration. The López Obrador government has said it will not react to the “threats”.

However, sources familiar with Mexican politics who asked not to be identified said that the almost daily pressure from the United States had led the Ministry of the Interior and the Foreign Ministry to pressure the National Institute of Migration (INM) to take more stringent measures.

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Undisclosed data from the INM, reviewed by Reuters, showed that it detained 12,746 undocumented immigrants in March, an increase of almost a third since February and two thirds since January.

The agency also suspended its humanitarian visa program on January 28, after issuing some 13,000, mostly to Central Americans who arrived that month at the border state of Chiapas, the site of most of the crossings.

In February, some visas were issued, but none since then, said an INM official in Mexico City, who was not officially authorized to speak with the press and asked to remain anonymous.

The INM said in a statement that it remains open to the issuance of humanitarian visas, giving priority to women, children and the elderly.

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In Chiapas, the INM’s decision to close its main office in the border town of Tapachula a month ago has forced hundreds of migrants to move 105 kilometers north to the small Mapastepec, where they have languished under suffocating temperatures waiting for humanitarian visas.

“It’s crazy that they’re making us wait so long, for what? For nothing!” Said Daisy Maldonado, a 26-year-old Honduran girl who camped on a plot in Mapastepec in front of a sports stadium.

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Hundreds of men, women and children have taken refuge for almost three weeks inside the stadium, while immigration officials searched their identities but neglected a group that was camping on the road, human rights and migrant activists said.

Without water, without medical help or government attention, Maldonado’s group depended on the few alms given by the locals, according to group members. Maldonado’s daughter, Marisol, five years old, was crying with hunger at her side, in a camp she had built with dry palm branches.

A coalition of 14 rights and aid groups operating in Chiapas consider the agglomeration of stranded migrants as a “humanitarian crisis.”

“The Mexican government is responding with the same repressive practices as the previous government did in terms of control policy of detention and deportation but in an even more disorderly manner,” said Salva Lacruz, a coordinator of Fray Matías de Córdova, a group migrant who operates in Chiapas.

INM commissioner Tonatiuh Guillén López said in a recent interview that the office was adopting a more “strict” approach in southern Mexico due to the influx of migrants in Chiapas. However, he denied that it was a response to pressure from the United States and said that Mexico was moving forward with more humane immigration policies.

Humanitarian crisis

INM officials said that they closed the regional office in Tapachula on March 15, after Cuban migrants stormed the facilities, enraged by the lack of response. Groups of human rights and migrants question the explanation.

The closure created a bottleneck for visa applicants, hundreds of whom went to Mapastepec, where on Saturday, the INM suddenly interrupted registration at the stadium and said migrants would have to wait at least another month.

The INM said the work had been interrupted after some migrants caused riots that forced the police to intervene and that the search would continue elsewhere, without giving details.

Even those who had registered at the stadium had not received any indication from the INM about whether or not they would receive visas, almost two weeks after being processed, said Silvia Rodríguez, a 26-year-old Honduran.

Despite the uncertainty, many migrants preferred to wait for their legal status before continuing their caravan trip. Those who travel alone and without papers in Mexico are frequent victims of organized crime, in addition to risking being detained or extorted by the police.

Erick Morazán, a 28-year-old Honduran, said he traveled to Mapastepec at night with a group of other migrants to avoid the raids of immigration officials, in what he called a “zombie caravan.”

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“Migration grabs us like pigs,” said Morazán, who travels with two children.

In an effort to stop the accumulation of migrants in Chiapas, the INM said this month that citizens of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala will be able to register to obtain visas through Mexican consulates in their countries of origin as of the end of May.

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Overcrowding in detention centers

Despite the closure of offices in Tapachula, an on-site detention center is still open. The increase in arrests in the border area has led to the place sheltering 1,700 people, said the human rights group in its report.

That is almost twice its capacity and twice the usual amount, according to the group of migrants Fray Matías, who monitors the center.

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The group reported purple eyes and bruises among the detainees who, he said, were the result of beatings by police who entered the center to control a riot last week. Reuters could not verify this independently.

Representatives of the Mexican security forces did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Lacruz said that at least 30 migrants had been irregularly detained in the center of Tapachula despite having applied for asylum before the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid (COMAR), in contravention of Mexican law.

The INM did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations of overcrowding and irregular detentions .

The institute says that migrants who are in their facilities are not detained, but are simply being held for processing, but human rights groups and migrants say they are not free to leave, often for days or weeks.

Many undocumented immigrants are also deported after being processed in the centers. Mexico sent some 60 Cubans back to the island this month and 204 Hondurans home on Saturday.

Richard Pioenza, a US citizen originally from Cuba, said his wife Yildiz Gomez had been detained for more than 20 days in the center despite having documents showing that he had requested asylum.

“Inside (…) they are not eating well,” said Pioenza about the conditions in the center; They are “sleeping on the floor,” he stressed.

Reuters could not contact Gómez directly.

Pioenza said his wife applied for refugee status after arriving in Mexico in March to facilitate her passage to the border with the United States, where she planned to seek asylum for political repression in Cuba.

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After a request from Reuters to verify Gómez’s situation and five other cases of alleged irregular detentions, the Mexican refugee agency said Monday it would send a team to the center.

Source: el economista, reuters

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