The militarization of borders and mass deportations increase the dangers for migrants

Dozens of migrants line up outside the shelter of the Casa del Migrante Diocesis of Coatzacoalcos to receive food. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter authorities are not allowing access to migrants. Men, women and families with their children have to sleep under the bridge or next to the tracks. Photo: (Diario 16)

The testimonies collected by MSF in the area corroborate the increase in raids and arrests on the southern border, which put the physical and mental health of asylum seekers and migrants at risk

April 26, 2021, (Diario 16).- The agreements announced between the United States, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala to reinforce the militarization of the borders entails a greater criminalization of the population in transit and, therefore, greater exposure of migrants to organized crime and COVID-19 denounces Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

MSF has witnessed repeated raids and arbitrary arrests on the southern border of Mexico and mass deportations from the United States running on the northern border; expulsions that hide behind public health reasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that involve de facto blocking the right to asylum.

“We are seeing again the lifting of physical, police, and bureaucratic walls to asylum and the free movement of people fleeing violence in their countries of origin. This is evident on both the northern and southern borders of Mexico. While the US deported the newcomers massively and hotly, Mexico also represses and detains them on a massive scale, ”says  Antonino Caradonna, coordinator of the MSF migrant project in Mèxico.

MSF teams on the southern border have repeatedly denounced the massive raids and arbitrary arrests in areas with a high concentration of migrants and asylum seekers,  including near the organization’s medical care points, especially in Coatzacoalcos (Veracruz), a railroad crossing widely used by the population in transit.

“Without going any further, last week, raids were carried out in Coatzacoalcos on the train tracks and around 50 migrants were arbitrarily detained, including families with children. They were sleeping near the shelter (Casa del Migrante de la Diocese) because they denied them accommodation, theoretically due to the pandemic ”, explains Caradonna. Many shelters in Mexico have closed or reduced their capacity due to the pandemic. Police action near shelters or places where migrants receive medical and humanitarian assistance “ pushes people in transit to hide more, to choose more dangerous routes, to be more vulnerable to organized crime and extortion. We have to denounce the extreme vulnerability of these people,” adds Caradonna.  

The testimonies collected by MSF in the area corroborate the increase in raids and arrests on the southern border, which put the physical and mental health of asylum seekers and migrants at risk. “About 400 people came through the mountains, but in the raid, they captured about 200. Half were women, now very few women come because they are the ones who catch the most because [they travel] with children, they are the ones who run the least ”, explains the Honduran Levi, who also confirms the absence of open shelters,“ we have stayed in the pure mountains and in the ways because we have not found any shelter, no house for the migrant ”.

“It has been 20 days since I entered Mexico, we have slept in the mountains, we have endured hunger and sleep because the truth is we are without money. At the Coatzacoalcos shelter they told us that it was closed, they gave us food and coffee, but no longer to sleep inside, ”explains  Kimberly, a 29-year-old from Honduras, who is traveling with her 11-year-old son, a brother, and his children. She worked in the fields and after the hurricanes, she lost everything. “ I am afraid of staying on the street because anything can happen to us. I am afraid that my son will be taken from me.  I have not been able to sleep. While my son sleeps, I watch ”.

Others explain that it is some neighbors who give them help: “There are no shelters, only friendly people who welcome us, without any problem, in their homes and that is appreciated because one no longer sleeps in the mountains, ‘in danger”, says Roger, a 39-year-old Honduran.

Northern border
On the northern border, by contrast, MSF teams are witnessing an increase in mass deportations from the US of recently arrived and returned asylum seekers and migrants, often to unknown and dangerous northern Mexican cities without due process. In Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, and Ciudad Juárez, the teams have provided medical assistance to hundreds of deported families, now stranded, awaiting protection.

“Our teams give an account of the inhumane treatment they receive in US detention centers and the impact it has on the health of migrants, the acute stress they carry. They are deported to border cities in Mexico, without any information about where they are and what they are going to do next. There are many women with children in their arms, who have not eaten or received dignified treatment while in detention and without COVID prevention measures. We treated a 4-year-old girl who arrived in Ciudad Juárez in a dehydrated condition because she did not even receive water in the cells in the United States, ” says  Geaninna Ramos, medical director of the MSF care project. 

“I had entered through the Reynosa border crossing and they returned me to Nuevo Laredo. I had no way of communicating with anyone, ”laments  María, a  33-year-old Guatemalan who travels with her 4-year-old daughter. She was separated from her husband and son, who are together in a shelter in Monterrey. “ Immigration officials treat you badly. You ask a question and they yell at you, they push you. To search the minors, they put them all against the bus with their hands up and pushed them. I imagined my son and I did not want to think that my son would be beaten because I saw how they were pulled to search them. They treat us badly. We are fleeing and we do not come with the intention of harming anyone, but I think that not everyone understands”.

The lack of protection, adequate humanitarian assistance to the population in transit and the inclusion of the migrant population in the prevention of COVID-19, the criminalization of people who flee, and their vulnerability to criminal gangs that engage in kidnapping, extortion, and human trafficking are not new problems for MSF: “ We have already seen these policies in the past, we know that they do not discourage migrants, but only serve to hide them, go down more dangerous roads, expose more to organized crime, turn to human traffickers and risk their lives ”, Caradonna abounds.

As a US Administration spokesperson stated at the beginning of April, the increased security presence in the region aims to deter migration: “The objective is to make travel more difficult and to make crossing borders more difficult. ” We have to be clear and analyze these policies in-depth, ”explains  Caradonna. ” Making the journey more difficult for migrants means making it more lethal .”

MSF once again calls on the governments of the region to put an end to these repressive migration policies. Asylum seekers and migrants must be guaranteed adequate humanitarian assistance and protection in accordance with national and international laws and regulations. Likewise, and in the context of the pandemic, MSF demands that efforts be made to prevent the disease among the migrant population, in need of sufficient shelters and safe spaces that are also adequate to avoid infection.



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