Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) condemns the decision by the governments of Mexico and the United States to expand a policy that forces people seeking asylum in the US to wait out legal proceedings in violent areas of Mexico and puts them in extreme danger.
Both countries have agreed to expand the “Remain in Mexico” policy (officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols) to Nuevo Laredo, a border city in Tamaulipas State that is controlled by criminal groups. Asylum seekers in Nuevo Laredo are constantly exposed to robbery, assault, extortion, kidnapping and homicide.
“Sending people who are seeking asylum back to Mexico and forcing them to stay in Nuevo Laredo is an unacceptable policy. This policy is putting vulnerable people in areas controlled by criminal organizations, which see migrants as a commodity and a source of income.”
We provide medical, mental health and social services support to migrants and refugees in various shelters in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros. According to our patient data from January to May of this year, more than 45 percent of 378 patients treated by us in Nuevo Laredo have suffered at least one episode of violence in the city, as they waited to cross into the US. Of the 378 patients treated in our mental health programs in 2019, 45 people (12 percent) have been kidnapped—26 of them in the seven days prior to their mental health consultation.
“The majority of our patients don’t go out in the street due to the imminent risk of kidnapping,” said Hernandez. “The asylum seekers we’re treating and counseling in Nuevo Laredo are from many countries, including Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and Mexico. Without a doubt, however, it’s people from Central America who are most vulnerable to kidnapping, and it is this very population which will be returned to Mexico in large numbers due to the Remain in Mexico policy.”
Nuevo Laredo cannot become a reception city for people seeking asylum in the US and looking for protection. “Mexico cannot be considered a “safe country” for people fleeing violence, and Tamaulipas is a good example of this,” said Hernandez. Even the US State Department travel advisory system classifies Tamaulipas State as Category 4— the highest advisory level often used for countries at war—and warns people from the US to avoid all travel there due to high crime and the risk of kidnapping.
According to testimonies collected by us, criminal groups target migrants and asylum seekers as soon as they arrive in Nuevo Laredo. “They are kidnapped at bus terminals,” said Hernandez. “There are safe houses where they are detained for extortion, beaten and assaulted. Some endure death threats, they are detained for long periods for forced labor, they are sexually exploited or forcibly recruited by criminal organizations.”
Just last week, we denounced the recent raids and mass arrests of migrants carried out by Mexican authorities on the country’s southern border with Guatemala. These types of raids and arrests of migrants traveling on clandestine routes expose them to more dangers—including criminal gangs involved in human trafficking—and prevent them from accessing health services. We call on Mexican and US authorities to place the protection of human beings and humanitarian assistance at the center of its migration policies. The decisions that these administrations have taken to confront this crisis are having devastating humanitarian consequences. They increase the suffering of thousands of people fleeing their countries, and put lives at risk.