Fear persists among migrants a week after deadly Mexico fire

By Guadalupe Peñuelas

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Apr 3 (EFE).- A week after a fire that claimed the lives of 39 Central and South Americans at a Mexican government-run migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez, fear and calls for justice persist among undocumented foreigners stranded in that city located across from El Paso, Texas.

In the wake of the fatal incident, which also left 28 injured, 24 of whom remain hospitalized, the migrants’ main fear is being apprehended by agents with the National Institute of Migration (INM), the agency that ran the now-shuttered facility where the tragedy occurred.

Lacking money for basic necessities, many work on the street cleaning motorists’ windshields or selling sweets.

One of several migrants hiding out from the INM inside an abandoned building in Juarez is Venezuela’s Joaquin Enriquez, who told Efe the money he had when he arrived in Mexico a few weeks ago is now gone.

“We’re staying in this place because we don’t have any money to eat or to rent a room. We’re afraid of (immigration agents) because they always want to send you back home. If it was a fire now, you don’t know if the next time it’ll be a bomb,” he said suspiciously.

Another inhabitant of that same place is his compatriot Demi Corso, who said that discrimination in Mexico is hidden at first but rears its ugly head at the slightest provocation.

“There’s a lot of xenophobia in Mexico. I clean the windshields of cars, and they wanted to kill me for trying to survive. A driver shouted at me, ‘that’s why they kill Venezuelans!” Corso said.

The building housing the migrants is adequate for their basic needs: clothes hang out to dry on clothes lines, there are wooden boxes and buckets to sit on and a coal-fired stove to prepare food that is shared among around 50 people.

Maria de Souse, a Venezuelan native, is tasked with cooking and serving meals to the inhabitants.

“I was one of the first people who arrived. We cleaned and removed all the trash to give the area some dignity,” she told Efe.

De Souse added that battling discrimination and xenophobia, particularly when it comes from the Mexican government, is a tough challenge. She said she does not wish to stay in Juarez and that, like many migrants, sees it only as a stopover on her journey to the United States.

“We don’t have food to eat. My husband cleans windshields and washes cars. We’re terrified of immigration (officials) because we saw the videos. There was a way to save the migrants and they allowed them to die with a coldness that’s frightening,” she added.

De Souse was referring to surveillance video that showed guards walking away from the detention facility after migrants had set fire to mattresses inside their cell and making no attempt to save their lives.

All 50 people living inside the building receive blankets, cardboard and other materials as protection from the cold.

“No one is charged anything because we all see one another as brother and sister migrants,” De Souse said.

On Sunday, a group of 100 migrants paid tribute to the 39 people who died in the March 27 fire in a demonstration along the Rio Grande, where they demanded a memorial be built and justice be served.

Also Sunday, the Catholic Church called on the Mexican government to stop seeing migrants as criminals and demanded they be treated with dignity and that those responsible for the tragedy not go unpunished.

On Friday, Mexico’s security and civilian protection secretary, Rosa Icela Rodriguez, announced that the detention center where the fire occurred – a facility that had been housing nearly 70 people at the time – will be permanently closed.

For its part, Mexico’s attorney general’s office said five people detained thus far suspects are in pretrial detention and will have a court hearing on Tuesday. EFE

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