“Aggressive” migration policies imposed by the United States and Mexico trap Central American migrants and refugees in a “vicious cycle” of violence, sexual assault, kidnapping and abuse by border authorities, according to a new report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
The report, titled No Way Back, found that 57.3% of 480 people surveyed had experienced some form of violence while traveling in Mexico. Over 39% were violently attacked, while over 27% were threatened or extorted.
People also described an increase in predatory violence perpetrated against them by criminal organizations operating along a route to the US border.
MSF treated 41 people last September who were in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo under the program known as “staying in Mexico”, and that 18 of them, or 44%, said they had been kidnapped recently. Another 12 percent were victims of attempted kidnappings, according to the report.
The following month, the number of people claiming to have been kidnapped rose to 75%, according to the report, and some of them were forced to work for their captors.
“Despite national and international legal obligations requiring states to protect people fleeing violence and persecution, the US government has implemented a series of measures limiting access to asylum,” MSF said.
The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPPs), adopted by the Trump administration in January 2019, were identified by the report as a key policy that “further endangers the health and safety of people”. The MPP obliges asylum seekers to stay in Mexico to wait for the end of their legal procedure. Since its implementation, nearly 60,000 people have been returned to some of Mexico’s most dangerous border towns.
The White House said the MPP provides a “safer and more orderly process” that discourages individuals from attempting to enter illegally and misrepresenting themselves to stay in the United States.
“No viable way to escape the violence”
However, the MSF report disputes this, saying that recent US policies and bilateral agreements with Mexico and other regional governments “effectively dismantle the protection system for refugees and asylum seekers”.
“What we are asking for is the suspension of these immigration policies in Mexico and the United States,” Sergio Martin, head of the Mexican branch of MSF, told reporters on Tuesday.
It is not road checkpoints that force migrants to “sleep in the woods” and expose themselves to disease and organized crime, but “a government that grabs vulnerable people and consciously places them in a very dangerous place,” Martine said.
Michael Tam, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrant Rights Project, said the MPP is an “unprecedented and radical departure” from how the United States previously handled immigration applications. asylum.
This policy left tens of thousands of people deported to Mexico waiting for months, sometimes up to a year, for their fate to be decided, Tam said.
“This is a program to deter types of migrants who have certain skin colors from coming to the United States and they do this by making the process as difficult and as dangerous as possible for people to give up.”
Asylum seekers have been forced to wait in extremely dangerous parts of the US-Mexico border, Tam said, describing Tamaulipas state, where large numbers of migrants are being turned back, as a “conflict zone dangerous comparable to Syria or Iraq”.
A travel advisory issued by the US government said organized crime activity – including shootings, murders, armed robberies, kidnappings, extortion and sexual assaults – was common along the border upstate.
There has always been a need for public outcry against the program because the Trump administration “would have to face consequences” for the MPP, whether through legislation or the ballot box in November, Tam said.
The situation has been deteriorating since 2017
Report says ‘things have only gotten worse’ since 2017, with thousands getting stuck in a ‘vicious circle’ as they seek protection but are thrown back into the violence and poverty they fled at her’s.
Washington has also pressured Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to do more to slow the northward flow.
The Mexican government says its policies aim to ensure safe, regular and orderly migration with strict respect for human rights.
However, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Wednesday that the number of migrants awaiting the outcome of their U.S. immigration cases in Mexico had fallen from 50,000 to around 2,500.
At a press conference, Ebrard said he expected the number of migrants in the “Remain in Mexico” program to remain around current levels.
Asked about the report Tuesday at a press conference in Washington, Acting Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan disputed the finding that 75% of their patients were kidnapped after being turned away from the southwestern border of the United States.
“It’s not what we hear and it’s not what we see,” he said.
Morgan said the United States was working with the Mexican government to encourage migrants to go to shelters instead of the makeshift tent cities that have sprung up on the Mexican side of the border.
Many MSF patients also said they were held in “appalling conditions” while in detention in the United States, with freezing cells, lights on 24 hours a day, limited access to healthcare and no adequate food, clothing or blankets. standard.
While in Mexico, MSF teams visiting various detention centers found overcrowding, insufficient medical care and a lack of adequate resources.
Teams also found migrants with infectious diseases and diarrhea, as well as victims of violence, especially those with acute mental health needs.
Almost one in four migrant women told MSF that they had suffered sexual violence during their journey.