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03 June 2020 – Mexico

Migrants Waiting to be Returned to their Countries of Origin Following their Release from Immigration Detention Centres, (Reuters,
Migrants Waiting to be Returned to their Countries of Origin Following their Release from Immigration Detention Centres, (Reuters, "Segob confirma el desalojo de 3,759 migrantes de las estaciones migratorias para evitar brotes de Covid-19," El Economista, 28 April 2020,

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the UN human rights (OHCHR) country office in Mexico reported that while the country had not adopted a moratorium on new immigration detention orders it had released most people detained for migration-related reasons. Responding to the same survey, the Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova AC also confirmed that there was a decrease in the amount of people placed in immigration detention. The number of detainees fell from 2,940 in March to 1,532 in April and then to less than 292 by the start of May. As of 29 May, there were 234 people detained in the 65 immigration detention centres (estaciones migratorias) in the country, which have a total capacity of 8,524 spaces.

In its response, Fray Matías emphasized the fact that not all detainees had been released. Certain groups of people remain in detention, including those:
– with ongoing court cases;
– with some type of immigration alert;
– detained while their immigration status was being verified (this process can last for up to a week) or while their asylum application is being processed; and
– returned from the United States from third countries.

Regarding the last category of detainees, Mexico has accepted to take Central American migrants and refugees and place them in immigration detention centres. Fray Matías explained that in certain cases, these people were not placed in temporary isolation and no health checks were undertaken, considerably increasing the risk of spreading infection.

Despite the releases from detention, the OHCHR country office said that authorities had failed to adhere to human rights standards in the treatment of people after they were released. Most returns to Central American countries, usually conducted via land, were blocked because Guatemala’s borders had been closed. The border closures and ensuing riots that took place in immigration detention centres as fears about contagion spread among detainees (see the 7 April Mexico update on this platform) spurred Mexico’s immigration authority (Instituto Nacional de Migracion, or INM) to start releasing people and transporting them a few kilometers from the border with Guatemala, where they were abandoned. Fray Matías also said that they had received information stating that migrants and asylum seekers released from detention had been abandoned or deported to their countries of origin, which may violate the principle of non-refoulement. Some of the released migrants were transferred to civil society shelters, putting the people already accommodated in those facilities at risk of contagion. The OHCHR Mexico country office said that migrants were not being tested for Covid-19 and they were unable to confirm whether any measures had been taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 amongst released migrants. Fray Matías said that according to information provided directly from released detainees, upon arrival to the detention centres, migrants and asylum seekers are asked a few questions regarding Covid-19 symptoms, they are then placed in isolation for a few hours and later, they join the general population.

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, Fray Matías said that the INM was using certain “alternatives to detention” for asylum seekers. However, the organisation said that this was not an effective measure as they were not released within the context of a regularisation programme or humanitarian aid program. Asylum seekers may be left homeless and without support as civil society shelters are overcrowded and do not receive much government support.

The OHCHR Mexico country office also reported that deporations were not completely suspended for migrants arriving from Central America and that 4,935 persons had been returned during the period 21 March to 29 May (2,461 were returned by air to Honduras, 406 to El Salvador, and 67 to Nicaragua, as well as 2,001 via land routes to Guatemala).

Prior to the release of most immigration detainees (see 29 April Mexico update on this platform), on 17 April, following a legal action supported by more than 40 civil society organisations, a first instance Court ordered the immediate release of vulnerable detainees held in immigration detention centres and that they be provided with a temporary status which would allow them to access health care. The Court also ordered the INM to develop a report detailing the number of persons detained as well as a strategy for migrants and asylum seekers to be able to benefit from economic support.