Asylum seekers sent to Mexico to wait US court hearings under Trump scheme routinely targeted for abduction, survey finds
David Agren in Mexico City – The Guardian
A woman sits with her sons as they wait to apply for asylum in the US along the border in Tijuana, Mexico. on July 2019. Photograph: Gregory Bull/AP
A staggering 80% of asylum seekers sent to Mexico to await US court hearings report being victims of violence, according a survey by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
In one month – September – three-quarters of asylum seekers seen by MSF physicians in Nuevo Laredo reported having been kidnapped for ransom, according to the figures released on Wednesday.
Some 44% of MSF patients also reported having been victims of violence in the week leading up to their consultations.
Wednesday marked the first anniversary of a scheme officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), under which migrants seeking asylum in the United States are sent to Mexico to wait as their cases wind their way through US courts.
Under the scheme, also known as “remain in Mexico”, more than 57,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers have been sent to wait in cities along the border – many of which have been plagued by drug-war violence for years.
Migrants – who stand out because of their appearance and accents – are routinely targeted for abduction outside migration offices and bus terminals, and held until relatives back home wire ransom payments to the kidnappers.
“The US continues to send asylum seekers back into danger and into the hands of the cartels that control the migration routes in Mexico,” said Sergio Martín, MSF general coordinator in Mexico.
“The Mexican government lacks the ability to provide the most minimum of conditions for thousands of people who are being sent to its territory,” he said.
Migrants are at risk along the entire border, “but mainly in places like Nuevo Laredo, where there is serious violence – and migrants are ‘merchandise’ for organised crime,” Martín said.
Nuevo Laredo is considered so insecure that the US government has issued a Level 4: “Do not travel” alert to its citizens for the city and surrounding state of Tamaulipas – the same as war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan.
The Cartel del Noreste – an offshoot of the blood thirsty Zetas cartel – “operates a sophisticated kidnapping business that targets asylum seekers – many of whom are women and children – who enter the city,” said Stephanie Leutert, director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the Strauss Center at the University of Texas.
“The kidnappers charge several thousand dollars for each kidnapped asylum seeker and operate with almost complete impunity.”
The Mexican government promised to provide asylum seekers with shelter, work permits and access to health services, but observers say many of the migrants have been left to fend for themselves.
On Wednesday, the US department of homeland security announced that the scheme would be expanded to include Brazilians. Brazilian arrivals at the border have tripled in the past year.