MEXICO CITY – The United States government’s immigration policy is trapping Central American migrants and asylum seekers in dangerous areas of northern Mexico where they are often targets of kidnapping and extortion by criminal groups, the humanitarian medical non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders said in a new report released on Tuesday.
“The (United States) recommends that its citizens avoid (the northeastern Mexican state of) Tamaulipas at all costs. It prohibits its officials from going there, yet at the same time it’s grabbing migrants and entire families and sending them there,” said Sergio Martin, the general coordinator in Mexico of that NGO, better known internationally as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
In its new report titled “No Way Out,” MSF said 61.9 percent of the 480 migrants it interviewed were exposed to a violent situation during the two years prior to leaving their home country and nearly half (42.5 percent) reported that a relative had suffered a violent death in the northern triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) in the last two years.
“We’re talking about people who often were initially displaced in their countries of origin. People who flee from the countryside to the cities, and what they find there is very high levels of violence,” Martin told EFE.
The MSF coordinator said people are unable to live normal lives in cities in their home countries because their sons are recruited by violent youth gangs and people are threatened for extortion or suffer attacks that include beatings, rape, torture and murder.
He added that they are therefore forced to migrate once again but frequently then become victims of violence along the migration route.
“Migrants are a target in Mexico … They’re people who are more vulnerable and have fewer rights, and thus are easier to kidnap, extort … There’s more impunity,” Martin said.
The figures back him up.
Around 57 percent of the Central American migrants and asylum seekers interviewed by MSF for the report said they had been exposed to violence while en route through Mexico.
Meanwhile, 78 percent of the 3,695 people attended to in MSF psychological consultations for the migrant population in Mexico between January 2018 and September 2019 had “suffered from exposure to violence as a precipitating factor.”
Besides the dangers intrinsic to the journey through Mexico, Martin said a new US government policy known as Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) puts Central American asylum seekers at risk because they are forced to remain in Mexico while waiting for the conclusion of their legal proceedings.
“Between January and October 2019, more than 55,000 people were returned to Mexico under the MPP, including pregnant women and people with medical and mental health needs,” the MSF report said, adding that “this policy is only exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Mexico.”
“It’s yet another twist in these measures to criminalize migrants. We’re not only dealing with dissuasive measures,” Martin said. “The US government is taking entire families and, under the pretext of protecting them, is sending them to one of the most dangerous parts of Mexico.”
The MSF coordinator also placed blame for the situation on the current Mexican government and noted that this policy is being implemented under bilateral agreements.
(Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration had previously offered fast-track visas to migrants for humanitarian reasons, but under pressure from US President Donald Trump’s administration, which had threatened to impose tariffs on all Mexican imports if that country did not halt the northward movement of Central Americans, Lopez Obrador’s government agreed with the US in June 2019 on a plan to curb migration.)
The report said that in October of last year, 75 percent (33 of 44) of the new patients of the NGO who had been returned to Mexico by the US under the Migrant Protection Protocols had suffered a recent kidnapping.
“When the Mexican government is incapable of providing security … to Mexicans who live in some of these very dangerous cities, we can’t pretend they’re going to be safe places for migrants,” Martin said.