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US migration policy endangers lives of asylum seekers in Tamaulipas state

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Asylum seekers are forced to sleep in tents established right next to the bridge by the border in Matamoros, Mexico without any access to potable water and sanitation services. June 2019. © MSF
  • A US government migration policy is trapping asylum seekers in Mexico, exposing already-vulnerable people to violence and exploitation, endangering lives

  • MSF teams are seeing women and children with mental health issues and/or injuries sustained from violent attacks.

  • MSF calls on the US government to stop sending asylum seekers back to places where they face violence and persecution and urges the US and Mexican governments to stop harmful migration policies that endanger people’s lives.

MEXICO CITY The lives of asylum seekers are being put in danger in Tamaulipas state, in northeastern Mexico, by the US government’s Migration Protection Protocol (MPP) and the Mexican government’s lack of humanitarian assistance, warns Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

The MPP forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed, staying in cities such as Matamoros where poor infrastructure and high levels of violence – including kidnapping, extortion, armed robbery and sexual violence – are putting their health and lives at risk.

“It is unacceptable that vulnerable people – women, children, families and men – are forced to live in dangerous conditions, exposed to violence by criminal gangs and treated inhumanely by the Mexican and US authorities,” says Dr Marcelo Fernandez, MSF’s head of mission in Mexico.

Since the MPP was implemented in Matamoros in August, MSF teams have witnessed the forced return of some 100 asylum seekers a day. The city has few shelters and is ill-equipped to receive them.

Most are living in unhealthy conditions with poor drains and inadequate drinking water and health services. Some sleep in improvised tents in the streets, exposed to the violence perpetrated by criminal groups vying for control of the area.

Our teams are providing medical and psychosocial care to migrants and refugees in a number of shelters – all of which are at full capacity – in the cities of Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros in Tamaulipas state, which is considered one of the most dangerous areas in Mexico by the US State Department. The situation has deteriorated since July, when we spoke out about the dangers facing asylum seekers in Tamaulipas state.

“They returned me to Matamoros with my daughter,” says Monica*, an asylum seeker from Honduras and an MSF patient. “The Mexican authorities didn’t give me any information about where the shelters are and where we could spend the night. I don’t know this place, but I do know that it’s dangerous.”

MSF is also concerned about the Mexican government’s recent measure of transferring groups of people to the south of the country, effectively condemning them to restart their journey northwards along extremely violent routes, again putting their lives in danger.

Between June 2018 and July 2019, 45 percent of 2,315 our mental health patients (either migrants, asylum seekers, refugees or returnees) in Reynosa and Matamoros reported being victims of violence during their journey through Mexico. Of these, one in three were physically assaulted and one in five had survived sexual violence.

MSF calls on the US government to stop sending asylum seekers back to places where they face violence and persecution. We urge once again for the US and Mexican governments to stop these harmful migration policies that endanger people’s lives. Both governments should implement measures that protect displaced people and guarantee urgently needed humanitarian assistance.