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An Invisible Crisis: Thousands of African Migrants Are Stranded in Mexico Hoping to Head North

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Hundreds of African migrants in Mexico are protesting the country's refusal to grant them transit visas to travel to the United States or Canada, where they want to apply for asylum. For months, thousands of African migrants have been forced by the Mexican government to stay in the southern state of Chiapas, on the Guatemalan border. Many of them have been sleeping in tent cities, cooking on the streets and bathing their children in buckets, without the promise of shelter, food or work permits.

The long waits for African migrants began in June, when it was reported that Mexican immigration authorities were ignoring transit visa requests by African and Haitian migrants to legally cross through Mexico. For African migrants, the journey to Mexico often takes months as they cross the ocean to reach South America and then embark on a dangerous trek through the Colombian jungle and multiple Central American borders. We speak with Carolina Jime'nez, Americas deputy director for research at Amnesty International in Mexico City.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonza'lez.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Mexico, where hundreds of African migrants are protesting the country's refusal to grant them transit visas to travel to the United States or Canada, where they want to apply for asylum. For months, thousands of migrants from countries as far away as Angola, Eritrea, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been forced by the Mexican government to stay in the southern state of Chiapas, on the Guatemalan border, in a permanent state of limbo. Many of the migrants have been sleeping in tent cities, cooking on the streets and bathing their children in buckets, without the promise of shelter, food or work permits. With President Trump's new restrictions on asylum seekers, including the "Remain in Mexico" policy, thousands of other African migrants are also stuck at the U.S.-Mexico border.

AMY GOODMAN: These conditions have sparked protests in Chiapas, were hundreds of African migrants have been demonstrating outside an immigration office and detention center in Tapachula since mid-August. Many of the protesters have been met with violent repression from Mexican Federal Police and the National Guard. This is one of the African migrants at a recent protest.

AFRICAN MIGRANT: [translated] The police are beating all of the people. From the beginning, there was no violence, but the guards hit people with their shields. They are beating all of the Africans. They are beating children. They are beating all of the people here. They don't want to help us. They are saying that they don't want any problems with us, but they are the ones who started beating people. They are insulting people. The military and the Federal Police threw tear gas at us. I don't know what we are going to do. We don't have good conditions here. We don't have a place to be. We need help. We need help getting out of here. There are comrades who are in the hospital, beaten with a police shield in the head. We are all human beings here. People are mistreated here every day. In there, they are abusing Africans. If they don't want us here, then give us a visa to get out. We don't want to be in Mexico. We cannot be forced to stay in Mexico.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The long waits for African migrants began in June, when it was reported the Mexican immigration authorities were ignoring transit visa requests by African and Haitian migrants to legally cross through Mexico. This came one month after the Trump administration threatened the Mexican government with tariffs if the government did not decrease migration through Mexico. In response, Mexican President Andre's Manuel López Obrador quickly struck a deal with President Trump to increase militarization of Mexico's southern and northern borders, and mostly target migrants from Africa, Central America and the Caribbean for apprehension and deportation.

AMY GOODMAN: For African migrants, the journey to Mexico often takes months. They first must cross an ocean to reach South America, then embark on a dangerous trek through the Colombian jungle and multiple Central American borders.

For more, we're going to Mexico City to speak with Carolina Jime'nez, Americas deputy director for research at Amnesty International.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Lay out the issue, particularly for African migrants. When people think about migrants on the border of Mexico and the United States, I think they think of, you know, people from the Northern Triangle, but also Mexicans. They rarely think about African migrants. Talk about the crises they're facing and the fact that many of them are not even trying to come into the United States, but trying to get to Canada.

CAROLINA JIMÉNEZ: That is correct. Unfortunately, African migration to Latin America, in general, is a very invisible issue, although in the last few years we have noticed an important increase in the number of Africans coming to Mexico, trying to reach the U.S. As you were very well describing, despite the fact that many of these people are people in need of international protection because they come from countries that are facing internal armed conflicts and extreme poverty, the Mexican government has basically decided to crack down on these migrants instead of allowing them to transit freely through Mexico as they used to until very recently, until they changed the policy, to seek asylum in the U.S. And what we have right now is a situation of hundreds of people basically trapped in southern Mexico, unable to move north to seek asylum in the U.S., living in very, very difficult conditions, you know, in tents, camping outside the detention centers, basically lacking any access to basic services.

So, sadly, when it comes to extra-continental migration, although the numbers of African migrants are increasing, we see that basically there is no policy in place to deal with their needs, with their specific demands. And we are very concerned that the situation will only get worse. This is a reality. Many Africans, thousands of Africans, are coming through what is a very, very difficult journey, reach Mexico on their way or trying to reach the U.S., and due to, you know, mainly the Trump administration's pressure on Mexico, the Mexican government is failing to provide these migrants with safe passages and with regularization processes that could improve their current situation.

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Maybe George Soros can pay to have one of his NGO's, that facilitated their trip here, fly them home.

Submitted on Saturday, Sep 14, 2019 at 2:42:28 AM

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