Doctors Without Borders Details Violence Asylum-Seekers Face Under 'Remain In Mexico' Policy

More than 45 percent of the 378 patients the group treated in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo this year had endured at least one episode of violence there.

International humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders condemned the Trump administration’s “remain in Mexico” policy for asylum-seekers, detailing the violence migrants face in one of the Mexican border towns where more will now be forced to wait. 

The “remain in Mexico” policy ― which has forced thousands of asylum-seekers looking for safety in the U.S. to wait in Mexico as their claims are processed ― leaves people staying “in violent areas of Mexico and puts them in extreme danger,” the group said in a news release Wednesday.  

Doctors Without Borders specifically noted the danger Central American asylum-seekers face in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo, where the group provides medical and other support services to migrants and refugees in local shelters. Asylum-seekers there are “constantly exposed to robbery, assault, extortion, kidnapping and homicide,” the organization said. 

Of the 378 patients Doctors Without Borders treated in Nuevo Laredo from January to May this year, more than 45 percent had endured at least one episode of violence in the city as they waited to cross into the U.S., per the group’s data. And about 12 percent had been kidnapped. 

While the group noted that asylum-seekers it treats there are from several regions of the world ― including Central American nations as well as Cuba, Cameroon, Mexico and others ― it’s people from Central America who are “most vulnerable” to kidnapping, it said.  

“And it is this very population [of Central Americans] which will be returned to Mexico in large numbers due to the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy,” María Hernández, a Doctors Without Borders staff member in Mexico, said in the release. 

“Sending people who are seeking asylum back to Mexico and forcing them to stay in Nuevo Laredo is an unacceptable policy,” Hernández added. “This policy is putting vulnerable people in areas controlled by criminal organizations, which see migrants as a commodity and a source of income.” 

The U.S. state department lists Tamaulipas, the state where Nuevo Laredo is located, as “level 4 ― Do Not Travel” on Mexico’s travel advisory page. It warns of violent crime, saying murder, kidnapping and sexual assault are “common” and gang activity is “widespread.” 

People walk across a bridge on the US/Mexico border between Laredo, Texas, and its sister city Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican st
People walk across a bridge on the US/Mexico border between Laredo, Texas, and its sister city Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas on Jan. 13, 2019.

Other advocacy groups have previously raised concerns about the dangerous conditions in Mexican border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, where more asylum-seekers will now have to wait. 

A report from Human Rights Watch released Tuesday found that asylum-seekers, largely from Central America, were “facing potentially dangerous and unlivable conditions” in Mexico after being returned there to await immigration proceedings under the “remain in Mexico” policy.

Specifically in Ciudad Juárez, the group had spoken to asylum-seekers who had suffered sexual assault, kidnapping and other violence ― after having been sent back to Mexico under the policy.

One 23-year-old asylum seeker from Honduras, Kimberlyn, said a taxi driver kidnapped her and her 5-year-old daughter after they were returned to Ciudad Juárez after an initial court hearing in the U.S. in April. The driver, who released them within hours, said he would kill them if her family did not pay an $800 ransom ― which they did, according to deposit receipts shown to researchers.

Another asylum-seeker ― 20-year-old Delfina M. from Guatemala ― was returned with her 4-year-old son to Ciudad Juárez. She said once there, two men grabbed her in the street and sexually assaulted her, telling her not to scream or they’d kill her son.

“I can still feel the dirtiness of what they did in my body,” she told researchers.