16 Sep 2021, 12:43

Mexican city becomes 'prison' for thousands of migrants

TAPACHULA, Mexico, Sept 16, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Tens of thousands of US-bound
migrants stranded in an overcrowded city in southern Mexico are desperate to
escape what they say feels like a huge open-air prison.

   "It's horrible here. You're trapped with no way out," said Fanfant
Filmonor, a Haitian who arrived in Tapachula two weeks ago from Brazil, where
he spent three years until losing his job.

   The migrants need permits so they can avoid being deported and continue
their journey, but some have been waiting for months and despair is growing.

   Mexican authorities have arrested more than 147,000 undocumented migrants
already this year -- three times more than in the same period of 2020,
according to the National Migration Institute.

   Migrants keep pouring over the border from Guatemala, particularly since
US President Joe Biden took office with a promise of a more humane approach
to immigration.

   But many reach a dead end in Tapachula, which rights activist Luis Garcia
of the Center for Human Dignification called "the largest immigration prison
in the Americas."

   - 'I can't stay' -

   Filmonor has already traveled through 10 countries to reach Mexico and he
is not ready to give up yet.

   "I can't stay here. I don't have a job or documents. They won't accept me
here. No one will be able to stop me," the 30-year-old told AFP.

   He has a bus ticket to the northern city of Monterrey and plans to try to
cross the border -- if he is not arrested along the way.

   The police and military monitor the entrances and exits of Tapachula,
located in the state of Chiapas, making it almost impossible for the
undocumented foreigners to leave.

   Migrants crowd the city's main square, the money transfer offices where
they collect funds sent by relatives, sidewalks or wherever they can find
respite from the suffocating heat.

   Domingue Paul, a 40-year-old Haitian who arrived a month ago from Chile
where he lived for five years, said he hoped to join a sister living in the
United States.

   "But if I find a job, I'll stay here," he said.

   After a catastrophic earthquake killed around 200,000 people in their
country in 2010, many Haitians were welcomed by South American nations.

   However, finding work and renewing their residence permits became
difficult for those migrants who are now chasing the American dream instead.

   Paul, his partner and two small children are surviving on money sent by
his sister while he struggles to get an appointment with the Mexican
Commission for Refugee Assistance.

   The organization is overwhelmed by a deluge of requests for documents.

   So far this year it has arranged about 77,559 permits for migrants,
compared with 70,400 for all of 2019.

   Without the documents, migrants cannot work, leaving them with no choice
but to live on the streets of Tapachula or crammed into cheap hotel rooms and
shared apartments.

 They gather in doorways, around food stalls
and street stands, some with babies in their arms. Around 40,000 migrants
stuck in the city of 350,000 face overcrowding, inadequate healthcare and the
risk of coronavirus infection, medical aid group Doctors Without Borders
(MSF) said last week.

   -'Humanitarian crisis' -

   Some people in Chiapas, Mexico's poorest state, have stopped treating the
arrivals with empathy and now view them with weariness and suspicion.

   "It has affected us in many ways, both economically and in terms of
health, crime, drug addiction, armed robberies, murders," said Carmen
Mijangos, who owns a food outlet.

   The Mexican government, under pressure from the United States to stem
flows of migrants, says that it will maintain its policy of containing them
in the south despite criticism.

   Security forces have recently broken up several migrant caravans
attempting the journey from Tapachula to the United States, and two
immigration agents were suspended for mistreating a Haitian.

   Rights activists are seeking a court order that would allow 7,000 migrants
to leave the south.

   "It's not fair on Tapachula either to impose an entire humanitarian crisis
on a single city," said Irineo Mujica of migrant rights group Pueblos Sin
Fronteras (People Without Borders).

   After the recent crackdown, many migrants fear they will be beaten,
detained and deported to Guatemala if they go back on the road.

   "It's not that I don't want to go -- I don't want to be here anymore,"
said 28-year-old Norma Villanueva from Honduras who arrived two months ago
with her husband and four children.



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