By Carlos Zuñiga
Tijuana, Mexico, Sep 29 (EFE).- Amid a full-blown crisis and without any encouraging signs on the horizon, migrants who have been stranded for months in the northern Mexican border city of Tijuana are now facing another worry: the growing violence in the region.
The northwestern state of Baja California has registered more than 2,300 victims of organized crime so far this year.
Of those, almost 1,500 of the crimes have occurred in Tijuana and 128 of them have taken place in September, according to the state attorney general’s office.
The migrants living in the Agape shelter in the Nueva Aurora neighborhood in a single week were terrorized by two shootouts between police and criminals.
The first clash occurred on Sept. 14 when Municipal Police officers pursued a pair of armed men to the area near the shelter, ultimately arresting one of them.
Then, last Thursday, armed gunmen ambushed two city police officers at the same site and a shootout erupted between security forces – and later Mexican army and National Guard troops who arrived at the scene – and the criminals.
Two of the alleged gunmen died in the shootout, all of which put migrants and activists even more on edge than they already were.
Janeth Valdovinos, a migrant from the western Mexican state of Michoacan, told EFE on Wednesday that as soon as she heard the gunfire she went to look for her children to protect them.
“We threw ourselves on the floor. We were crying along with the kids and we heard how people were crying and shouting. One boy was praying,” the woman recalled regarding the incident almost a week ago.
For Janeth, a single mother, the situation in Tijuana is very discouraging because “you come here fleeing from violence back there” and you don’t find any “safety” in the new place either.
The same sensation was felt by Hilda on that same day, and she feared for her daughter’s life given that the little girl was grazed on the head by one of the bullets that hit the walls and windows of the shelter.
“When we saw that the bullet came in the window we all hid under the beds … My daughter was grazed on the head by a bullet,” she said.
Antonio Escobar, from Honduras, has been staying at the shelter for months and is one of those responsible for the wellbeing of the more than 700 people there.
“You feel really bad because most of the people come from similar situations,” he told EFE.
But while this violent situation is of great concern to local residents and migrants, the authorities are minimizing the matter.
When questioned about a recent message attributed to organized crime threatening him, state Governor Jaime Bonilla said: “The dog that barks, doesn’t bite.”
And, for his part, the head of the Safety and Citizen Protection Secretariat in Tijuana, Pedro Cruz Camarena, insisted to reporters that the indices of violence in Tijuana are much lower now than in previous years, even though at the beginning of this month an 11-year-old girl died in a shootout at a shopping center.
These acts of violence come at a time when the region is experiencing an unprecedented migrant wave, which started at the beginning of this year with a record flow of 147,000 undocumented foreigners in Mexico between January and August, triple the 2020 figure, and a record 212,000 migrants detained by US Customs and Border Protection in July after illegally crossing the border.
In recent weeks, the situation has gotten worse along the northern Mexican border with the arrival of thousands of Haitians at various spots like Ciudad Acuña, in the state of Coahuila, from where many of them crossed the Rio Grande into the US and were then deported.