By Juan Manuel Blanco
Tapachula, Mexico, Apr 26 (EFE).- Dozens of Central American migrant families are facing rejection from shelters in southern Mexico amid more restrictive policies, the deployment of the armed forces and despite government promises.
In the city of Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala, foreigners of different nationalities are asking for refuge at centers like Belen, operated by the Catholic Church, but they are being denied access with explanations that there is no space for them or the shelters are not taking in families due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
That’s the situation for Honduran Norlan Hernandez, who along with his wife and son left his country because of threats from criminal organizations to arrive in Mexico seeking migration documents and intending to travel into the northern part of the country, where his wife has relatives, with the dream of starting a new life.
“First, we walked along several streets and then we found a taxi driver who gave us a hand and took us to different spots, but the situation is rather difficult because … the shelters are full,” Norlan told EFE.
This situation is occurring amid record migration figures, as reflected in data compiled by US Customs and Border Protection, which in March detained a record number of 172,000 undocumented migrants, almost 19,000 of them minors.
Also in March, the Mexican government registered a record of 17,445 migrants who were processed by local immigration authorities along with 3,139 unaccompanied minors.
The National Immigration Institute (INM) last week promised to set up 17 shelters along the southern border, in the states of Chiapas and Campeche, to house about 7,000 minors traveling alone.
But in Tapachula, the families with children under age five are still wandering around the city looking for someplace to stay so that they don’t have to spend the night on the street, while others are traveling alone.
In addition to not finding a bed for the night, these migrants are finding that shelters like El Buen Pastor have posted notices warning that starting on April 21 they would be suspending food services for people not staying there.
And while migrants are unable to find lodging and are scrounging around for food, the Mexican government has acknowledged that it has deployed 12,000 personnel – including army soldiers, immigration agents and other officials – to bring a halt to Central American migration.
Alfredo Cruz, a resident of the San Antonio Cahoacan neighborhood, said he thinks that the INM has become a “big detention wall” for migrants.
He, like other citizens and organizations, is demanding that the INM and the Mexican Refugee Aid Commission (Comar) stop bureaucratizing the procedures that foreigners must follow to be able to travel elsewhere in Mexico so that migrants don’t continue to wind up trapped in the city.
“Tapachula doesn’t offer them anything, there’s no industry, … there are no jobs – so how are the migrants who have settled in this town going to be taken care of?” he asked EFE rhetorically.
The migrant requests for shelter in Mexico grew by an annualized rate of 31.63 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to Comar, which registered 22,606 requests between January and March, compared to 17,174 during the same period last year.
About half the requests so far this year are from Hondurans, a total of 11,574.
A reflection of that is the situation at the Comar offices in Tapachula, where every morning dozens of migrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala show up to try and obtain an appointment to begin the shelter request process.
Carrying backpacks, men, women and children shuffle along in the lines between metal barricades placed by Comar to keep the procedure orderly.
At the office’s main entrance, a federal official receives the people who arrive.
But the migrants have told EFE that they have to wait between one and three months just to get an appointment and then to obtain a document that allows them to continue their journey through Mexico or to legally remain in the city.