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Immigrants Waiting on the Southern Border of Mexico Suffer Violence and Abuse

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TENOSIQUE – Last week, the organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MFS) published a statement describing the increasing violence experienced by immigrants and refugees on the southern border of Mexico.

For years immigrants on the northern border of Mexico and the US were exposed to violence, human trafficking, robberies, kidnappings, and extortion. However, following the agreements signed between the Trump administration and Mexico, known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), these situations of violence are being replicated at other borders, for example, the border of southern Mexico and Guatemala. These agreements try to contain and prevent immigrants from arriving in the US by forcing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while they wait for their cases to be reviewed. These people, mainly from Central America, decide between staying in different cities in Mexico or crossing routes that are unknown and dangerous. In these places, crime has been organized taking advantage of the vulnerability, fear, and ignorance of immigrants.

This situation of violence against immigrants does not only occur at borders and roads. Last week, the National Human Rights Commission (CDNH Mexico) and the Jalisco State Human Rights Commission (CEDHJ) expressed their concern and discomfort in a statement, where they reported that on October 24, a group of people with firearms entered an immigrant shelter located in Tlaquepaque (Jalisco, Mexico) where they beat Priest Alberto Ruiz Pérez and robbed the amount of twenty thousand pesos ($1046). These organizations asked the authorities for greater security to “safeguard the life and safety of the employees of the shelter, as well as their facilities.”

Doctors Without Borders say that members of its team that are working in the city of Tenosique (Mexico) have reported what immigrants say when they attend their facilities to receive medical and/or psychological care. 

Patients described suffering abductions, torture, extreme violence, cruel treatment, and sexual assault for extortion purposes, to which these people are being exposed to as soon as they cross the border from Guatemala on their way towards Tenosique…MSF teams have treated patients for gunshot and knife wounds. They have treated victims of sexual assault, including people who have endured torture such as electric shocks.

The report also says that criminal organizations kidnap and torture immigrants to get their relatives’ phone numbers, call them and extort them in exchange for receiving money to free their relatives.

In an interview with CNN, Sergio Martín, general coordinator of Doctors Without Borders, points out that “migration policies are leading to the criminalization of immigrants and driving them underground…This month there have been 11 cases of kidnappings and torture between the border of Guatemala and Tenosique [Tabasco, Mexico]. This is alarming because immigrants are a source of income for crime. This includes immigrants who have had their lives made in the US and that they are being deported and are completely lost in [dangerous] states without knowing anyone.”

In an earlier report by Doctors Without Borders, Carol Bottger, medical coordinator in Mexico, mentions the situation of deported immigrants “[they] had been in the US for 5, 10 or 20 years and, suddenly, they are on the border, without social or family ties in Mexico, many with chronic health problems or who have been transferred from jail to the border. Many of them suffer posttraumatic stress.”

She describes the symptoms of immigrants who were returned to Mexico by the MPP program, “They tend to suffer acute, very intense stress, fearing to relive the horror they just passed, – precisely when they thought they had left them behind and achieved some security. They suffer from the uncertainty of returning to a place of great violence.”

In the interview, Sergio Martin proposes that “the human beings should be at the center of immigration policies, we are talking about people, we cannot dictate a law and forget about the consequences.” He points out that following the “Stay in Mexico” program, 50,000 Central American immigrants have been sent from the US. to Mexico for their protection, but it is something unheard of. This number of immigrants sent to Mexico has also been confirmed in a Press Event by Mark Morgan, Head of the Office of Customs and Border Control (CBP) “CBP has enrolled more than 55,000 people in the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP – returning many to Mexico to await their immigration hearings. Mexico is providing humanitarian protections and even work-authorizations to these individuals during their stay.”

Sergio Martin points out, We are moving people from Texas to cities like Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros and this is something Machiavellian. These cities are considered dangerous in the country of Mexico. In 2018 the statistics of homicide in Tijuana was almost 3000 people compared to San Diego which was 38 having [both cities] almost the same number of inhabitants and people are being taken from San Diego to Tijuana “to protect it”.

Rocio Segura is a bilingual freelance writer with Revolution English. She holds a Master in Education, with experience in higher education and non-profits in Peru and the US. In addition to writing for Revolution English, she is also an avid travel blogger.