The border separating Ciudad Acuña, in Mexico, and Del Rio, in the United States, has been transformed into an open-air prison. Thousands of migrants, mostly Haitians, were surrounded by authorities on both sides. In Tex, the Border Patrol cracks down on those who arrive there after crossing the continent; they huddle under the international bridge, in a camp lacking water, food, toilets and shade. On the Mexican side, migratory agents have begun to press for these migrants to agree to be detained “voluntarily” and sent to Tapachula, in the south of the country. A crowd remains held back in the midst of this arm wrestling for the control of the arrival of migrants.
The rope that joins the two banks of the Rio Grande was cut on Thursday afternoon, and there is no longer any place to hold onto to cross. Despite knowing what awaits them on the other side, many remain waiting on the muddy slope that leads to the bank. They go because they are afraid and because Mexico does not guarantee them the documents, the protection, or the opportunities they seek. With the water as high as it is at 8 pm, crossing is even more dangerous, but Haitians tie their bags tighter, grab their children by the hands and throw themselves into the river. On the other side they won’t be welcome either. Joe Biden’s government has begun deporting thousands of migrants — “inhumane” practices, as criticized diplomat Daniel Foote, who on Thursday resigned as US special envoy to Haiti.
Dozens of police arrived at dawn at the camp that was formed on the Mexican side and limited access. Migration agents later joined in and toured the area to convince migrants to be detained voluntarily. In return, they would receive something that neither of the two governments has so far offered them: water, food, roofing, toilets, medical services and legal aid. “Why don’t you come and help us here?”, one of the women complained to the agents who proposed to take her to Tapachula, in the state of Chiapas, in the extreme south of Mexico.
On their way through the area where some of the people settled – on cardboard, in tents or under awnings made with cloths and bags – the employees of the National Institute of Migration in Mexico were clear: “whoever is happy” in this situation can stay, but they warned that it will be “very cold”. The region is bustling with the presence of officers from the Criminal Investigation Agency, while members of the National Guard, the Action and Reaction Police and several buses have been waiting outside since the morning.
“They come to scare us. They come just to fool people,” thinks Jonas Basel, a 31-year-old Haitian who travels with his wife and two daughters. This man passed through Tapachula on his way to Chile, where most of the migrants who have reached this point come from, and sees no point in voting for the town on the Guatemalan border. “It’s full of people and Comar [Comissão Mexicana de Ajuda a Refugiados] is collapsing. I won’t get an authorization in three or four months”, he says. Also, he says, “people are almost broke.” In your case, 300 of the 10,000 dollars (53,000 reais) you had for the trip are left: “We spent everything to get here.”
The building where the makeshift camp on the Mexican side was set up is federal land, but administered by the State Government of Coahuila. There is a space called Refeitório do Migrante, whose facilities have now been transformed into gigantic dormitories and bathrooms, in the absence of adequate facilities to receive them. On Tuesday, the camp began to look like an organized space: it had an improvised barbershop, an evening mass, water and food delivered at all times by NGOs and private individuals, tents and even some mattresses. But this Thursday the mood changed. “People are depressed, it’s very stressful,” says a pregnant woman, who declined to be identified.
The river had already risen in the afternoon, when two women and a boy, about eight years old, threw themselves into the water. On the other side, another migrant threw himself to help them because, after halfway there, the current began to cover the boy and the toy truck he was carrying under his arm. There awaited them, imposing, another row of patrolmen, a “wall of steel” to stop them, as the Republican Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott described it. Later, a large group of families crossed again. Many carried a bag in one arm and a child clutched in the other. On the other side, US agents shouted at them from a boat that “only children” could board the vessel. Parents handed over their children and clamored for help with the water above their chests.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) assessed that these migrants are in conditions of “extreme vulnerability”, months after leaving the host countries in South America and living in poor conditions in the precarious camps maintained by the governments of Mexico and the USA . The ICRC also recalled that the situation in Haiti “is complex” and asked the authorities to “promote practices that include humanitarian exceptions to protect people”. “One way”, argues Lorena Guzmán, coordinator of the ICRC’s regional delegation for Mexico and Central America, “could be to provide them with migratory documentation to promote a regular stay in Mexico, minimizing their risks and facilitating their full access to rights. temporary or permanent”.
The group held at the border is mostly made up of Haitians who left the country, expelled by political and economic instability. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere suffered in 2010 a devastating earthquake that forced thousands of people to start an exodus, mainly to countries in South America such as Brazil and Chile. The Caribbean nation’s serious humanitarian crisis of the last decade has worsened in June, with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that left more than 2,000 dead in August.
These people left Haiti several years ago and now face a dilemma: being deported by the United States to the country they fled, or sent back to Chiapas. Nearly 15,000 of them gathered under the bridge linking Ciudad Acuña to Del Rio, but on Thursday there were fewer than 5,000, according to US authorities. Many chose to retrace their path and, once again, cross the Rio Grande towards the United States. Perhaps one last try. The opposite route to what they traveled just a week ago.
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