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07 April 2020 – Mexico

Migrants Wait in Front of the Chiapas Immigration Detention Centre March 2020
Migrants Wait in Front of the Chiapas Immigration Detention Centre March 2020

With one of the largest immigration detention systems in the world, Mexico faces an enormous task in trying to protect the tens of thousands of people locked up in its “estaciones migratorias” from contracting Covid-19. Even as the country’s leadership downplayed the risks of the pandemic, some key actors in the country began expressing alarm early on about the risks to immigration detainees. By early April the calls for urgent action began growing louder as violence spread in detention centres across the country.

On 17 March 2020, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission issued a press release requesting that urgent actions be taken to avoid overcrowding and the spread of Covid-19 within the detained migrant population. The Commission urged the federal government to provide information to detainees on preventive measures against Covid-19; provide the necessary health products and supplies and carry out permanent monitoring and supervision of detainees, in particular those most vulnerable to suffer from the disease. The country’s immigration authority, the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM), reportedly applied some measures to avoid contamination such as the provision of hygiene supplies and installation of special filters.

On 25 March, a detention monitoring coalition consisting of several NGOs issued a press release denouncing alleged violence used by the National Guard to suppress a demonstration by detainees at the country’s massive Siglo XXi detention centre in Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border.

On 1 April 2020, a detainee died and 14 were hospitalised during a protest at the Tenosique immigration detention centre. The detainees were requesting their return to their countries of origin for fear of contracting Covid-19 while in detention.

On 2 April 2020, a large group of concerned individuals, NGOs, and academics issued an open letter demanding the urgent release of all immigration detainees in the country, citing the threat of Covid-19, deaths in detention centres, and the “negligent” behaviour of the INM and security forces.

Amnesty International also urged Mexican authorities on 2 April to release immigration detainees, but warned that given the fact that migrants and refugees are prime targets for exploitation and violence in Mexico, authorities must ensure that those released have access to key services, as well as care and safety.

The Fray Matias Human Rights Centre, which is based near the border with Guatemala, said in an interview with El Pais, that one critical concern is that advocates assisting migrants are unable to keep up with their efforts because of the impact of the virus, leaving them at greater risk of violence and exploitation. A Fray Matias advisor said that migrants and refugees who are crossing the border seem less concerned with the virus than with the other dangers to their safety that they are fleeing from in their home countries as well as confronting during their migration journeys.