‘No Way Out’: Central-American migrants face violence at home, on journey north, at the border, report finds

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Report: US policies expose asylum-seekers to further victimization

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A report released Tuesday by the global nonprofit Doctors Without Borders found that a majority of migrants coming from Central America were either attacked, raped or preyed upon in their home countries, on their journeys to the United States, and when they were forced to await asylum proceedings in Mexico.

The report, “No Way Out — The Humanitarian Crisis for Migrants and Asylum Seekers Trapped Between the United States, Mexico and the Northern Triangle of Central America,” paints a bleak picture of what most migrants emigrating from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have faced since 2018.

The report also found that many of the migrants have, in essence, been victimized multiple times. They fell victim to those in their home countries, including rampant gangs; while en route to America; and to new U.S. policies that deny them entry into the United States and leave them vulnerable in Mexico.

“Migration control measures adopted by the U.S. government and bilateral agreements between the U.S. and governments in the region have left people from the NTCA (Northern Triangle of Central America) who need protection without a viable way to escape the violence. These people are trapped by a maze of physical and administrative barriers that force them to choose between remaining in their home country, requesting asylum in countries that do not provide sufficient protection guarantees, or entering the U.S. irregularly and sacrificing their claim to asylum status. All of these options put their lives and health at risk,” the report stated.

These people are trapped by a maze of physical and administrative barriers that force them to choose between remaining in their home country, requesting asylum in countries that do not provide sufficient protection guarantees, or entering the U.S. irregularly and sacrificing their claim to asylum status. All of these options put their lives and health at risk.”

“No Way Out — The Humanitarian Crisis for Migrants and Asylum Seekers Trapped Between the United States, Mexico and the Northern Triangle of Central America”

The report is particularly critical of the United States. Specifically, it condemns the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program implemented by the Trump administration in 2019, which forces migrants to remain in Mexico for upwards of several months during their U.S. asylum proceedings. This is what is adding daily to the ever-growing tent encampment of 3,000 migrants currently living in Matamoros, Mexico, near the Gateway International Bridge across from Brownsville, Texas.

“The deterrence policies implemented by the U.S. government are contributing to the increased vulnerability of asylum seekers,” the report states. “People forced to wait for a decision in Mexico’s border cities are exposed to attempted kidnappings, violent situations and risks to their life.”

About 3,000 migrants live in tents near at an outdoor encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, near the Gateway International Bridge across from Brownsville, Texas, as seen in this Oct. 21, 2019 photo. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

The report calls on the Trump administration to end MPP and the detention of families in facilities that are reportedly so cold, they are often called hieleras” or iceboxes; to grant asylum based on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Protocols; for U.S. leaders to stop considering Mexico as a “safe third country”; and for Central-American countries to eradicate violence in their nations.

“Migration policies based on criminalization, deterrence and containment are prompting Central-American migrants to choose increasingly dangerous options to get to the U.S. They often find themselves at the mercy of trafficking networks or exposed to recurring violence by the criminal groups that operate along the migration route. All of this has serious consequences for their physical and mental health,” the report stated.

The non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders, which provides medical and mental health services to migrants, derived the report from patient testimonies, surveys of migrants and refugees conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and medical data recorded in MSF’s Health Information System (HIS) between 2018 and 2019.

Key findings of the report include:

  • 61.9% of migrants and refugees interviewed by MSF had been exposed to a violent situation in the two years prior to leaving their home country.
  • 42.5% reported the violent death of a relative in the last two years; 16.2% had a relative who was forcibly disappeared; 9.2% had a relative kidnapped.
  • 35.8% had been threatened for extortion.
  • 26% had been victims of assault.
  • 5% had been victims of torture in the two years prior to leaving their country.
  • 45.8% said exposure to at least one violent event was a key reason for migrating. The most frequently reported violence-related reasons were direct assaults on themselves or their families (20.8%); extortion (14.9%); attempted forced recruitment by gangs (10.5%), and confinement (5.5%).
  • Over 75% of migrants traveling with children said they left because of violence.
  • Over half said they had already tried to migrate at least once before. Of those, 82% had been deported at least once.
  • 57.3% had been exposed to some kind of violence along the migration route through Mexico. Once in Mexico, 39.2% were violently attacked, and 27.3 % were threatened or extorted. About 6% reported witnessing a death in Mexico.
  • 22.5% of women told MSF they had been sexually harassed; 12.8% had unwanted sexual relations; 10% said they were forced to have sex in exchange for material support or other benefits.

“Some women ask for contraceptives during MSF consultations when starting the route, because they fear the high risk of sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancy,” the report said.

Violence was specifically reported in the northern Mexico border towns of Matamoros, Reynosa, and Nuevo Laredo.

In September 2019, out of 41 MPPs sent to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico — which is across from Laredo, Texas –18 were kidnapped and 5 were victims of attempted kidnapping, the report said.

At the Matamoros tent encampment, where Doctors Without Borders offers medical, social, and mental health services, they said many migrants are treated for anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders, as well as physical ailments, skin diseases “attributable to overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions in the camp.”

A migrant in Matamoros, Mexico, is seen in October 2019 in the tent she and her daughter have lived in since early August 2019. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

“Once more, reports by NGOs are showing facts about the negative impact unlawful policies like MPP have on asylum seekers. The Trump administration is responsible for the suffering of migrants sent back to Mexico and their home countries. Asylum seekers flee out of desperation to protect and save their families. This administration keeps creating barriers that limit their access to seek asylum, legal representation, and remain free from harm,” ACLU Border Rights Director Astrid Dominguez told Border Report.

“This report gives plenty of examples of reasons why asylum seekers are fleeing their country,” Dominguez said. “It is important for people to understand the hazardous journeys that people are forced to take to save their lives. Also, seeking asylum is legal.”

But in a statement released Tuesday after spending a week in the Northern Triangle, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said the United States is endeavoring to help those nations improve their economies by providing training and mentoring to law enforcement and immigration officials to help combat migrant trafficking and human smuggling. But he said the onus must be put on those nations, as well as the U.S. Congress to reform immigration laws.

“The long-term economic prosperity of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras is vital to addressing the flow of illegal migration to the United States,” Morgan said. “We are actively engaged in these partnerships between nations and they are absolutely essential to strengthen our efforts in the U.S. to control our borders and uphold the rule of law. We must also continue to discourage migrants from these nations from risking the lives of their family by making the dangerous and potentially deadly journey north to the United States.”

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

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