Mass deportations and failed asylum policies leave tens of thousands of migrants stranded and in danger along Mexico’s border cities
Tens of thousands of migrants are trapped in extremely vulnerable conditions in northern and southern Mexico due to failed asylum policies and mass deportations from the US, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today, denouncing the overcrowded conditions and lack of access to medical and social services for migrants in Mexico.
“These people find themselves with few alternatives for shelter, overcrowded, or living in the street in precarious sanitary conditions and at risk of COVID-19 infection,” said Christoph Jankhöfer, coordinator of MSF’s migrant project in Mexico. “We are concerned about the anxiety, depression and hopelessness of the population in the absence of a response from authorities”.
Emergency intervention in the south
This week, MSF sent an emergency team to Tapachula in southern Mexico, where approximately 40,000 migrants are crowded together, without access to housing, basic services, or opportunities for employment. On September 4, 500 of these migrants joined a caravan north to protest their conditions and abandonment.
A first MSF assessment team, which accompanied the caravan for part of the journey, has treated patients for dehydration, headaches, muscle aches and wounded feet. They also treated a case of hypoglycaemia.
Migrants in Tapachula come from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela, Haiti and Cuba. A significant number of people in Tapachula are women and children. They have been in limbo for months. Many recently crossed the border with Guatemala, while others were deported by the United States to the northern border of Mexico and then transferred to southern Mexico by Mexican authorities.
Another limbo in the north
More than 2,000 people are living in a similar situation in the northern town of Reynosa, some 200 meters from the international bridge that links this Mexican city with Hidalgo, Texas. Migrants there—most of them from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are exposed to inclement heat, without adequate access to basic services and at serious security risk.
In Reynosa’s Plaza de la Republica there are only 18 public toilets available at the camp, approximately one for every 110 people
In Reynosa’s Plaza de la Republica there are only 18 public toilets available at the camp, approximately one for every 110 people. Those who want to bathe or wash their clothes must pay 10 Mexican pesos (half a dollar) to use the showers and sinks for a maximum of 10 minutes. Drinking water (which is sometimes scarce), clothing, food, mattresses, tents, medicines and medical consultations are being provided by civil society organizations.
“The only options they have are to stay in Mexico and try to survive in deplorable conditions, or to attempt to cross into the US again”, said Anayeli Flores, MSF’s humanitarian affairs officer in Reynosa.
“Neither the Mexican nor the U.S. government are providing adequate support, despite the fact that it is US policy and Mexico’s cooperation with these policies that keep these people in conditions of vulnerability, violating their right to seek asylum”.
Ailments associated with precariousness and psychological disorders
In Reynosa, MSF provides primary health and mental health consultations and counselling through a team of social workers. It is also supporting in the provision of drinking water at the camp. Between March and August of this year, MSF carried out 902 consultations. Teams are mostly treating respiratory, digestive and dermatological conditions, largely due to severe overcrowding and obstacles to proper hygiene. Having walked long distances along the route, migrants also present with foot pain and general muscle aches.
Most of the people MSF assists have left their country of origin due to violence, and they are often victims of violence along the migration route north. In addition to this history of trauma, migrants are dealing with the mental health impact of the precarious nature of their living conditions and migration status, and separation from their family members. This can lead to emotional disorders such as anxiety, stress, and excessive fear. In some cases, they develop psychological disorders such as XYZ.
Policies that criminalize migrants
Most of the migrants in Reynosa, including women, pregnant women, children, the elderly, LGBTQ population, indigenous and non-Spanish speakers, have been expelled from the United States through Title 42, a US public health order policy that constitutes a flagrant violation of international law. The policy uses the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to block people seeking protection in the US and deport them to border cities in Mexico, with the blessing of the Mexican government. These policies have put migrants in direct danger and have generated worrying episodes of violence.
“The situation of migrants in Mexico is unsustainable,” said Gemma Domínguez, MSF’s general coordinator in Mexico. “Policies that criminalize migration, the lack of an adequate humanitarian response, and repeated violence and persecution against migrants are unacceptable and endanger the lives of thousands of men, women and children”.
MSF urgently calls on Mexican and U.S. authorities to take action to address the grave humanitarian situation of migrant populations throughout the country, particularly in border regions. The US and Mexican governments must work together to promote access to protection in the region instead of coordinating on interdiction.