HomeNewsAnalysisMigrants at Risk as Coronavirus Shutters Mexico Shelters
ANALYSIS

Migrants at Risk as Coronavirus Shutters Mexico Shelters

COVID AND CRIME / 12 JAN 2021 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

The coronavirus pandemic has forced migrant shelters in Mexico to close or limit capacity, exacerbating an already precarious situation for migrants vulnerable to the predations of criminal groups.

More than 40 shelters that provide refuge to migrants traveling through Mexico en route to the United States have recently shuttered or scaled back operations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to a Reuters report.

In March 2020, for example, the Casa del Migrante shelter in Saltillo, the capital of northern Coahuila state, suspended accepting new migrants and asylum seekers. It reopened seven months later in October, but a COVID-19 outbreak forced the facility to close again in late December after its founder, Father Pedro Pantoja, died from the virus.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of US-Mexico Border

The migrants — mostly from Central America but also Asia, Africa and the Caribbean — have long used the shelters while traversing Mexico. Many undertake the perilous journey to the US border with little more than a backpack, walking much of the way. The shelters — which also provide migrants with food, clothing, medical attention and even legal aid — are largely funded by non-governmental and religious organizations.

In recent years crackdowns on migrants have forced them onto irregular and treacherous routes, exposing them to lurking criminal gangs.

“We know the gangs are watching us, and they know we’re watching them,” one 27-year-old Honduran migrant told Reuters.

InSight Crime Analysis

The shelters offer a lifeline for migrants journeying through Mexico, who are in constant danger from criminals of all stripes.

Migrants staying at shelters tend to be unprotected, traveling alone and unable to pay for smugglers’ services, said Stephanie Leutert, director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Guides will pay criminal groups a fee to move through their territory, which is safer than going at it alone,” Leutert told InSight Crime. 

With fewer shelters available to them, migrants are more vulnerable to robbery, extortion, assault and rape from local criminal actors. In addition, transnational criminal organizations run migrant kidnapping rings and demand ransom from family members in the United States. Mexican authorities and officials are also often complicit.

“They’re sitting ducks waiting to be victimized,” Leutert said of migrants now “left to wait and sleep on the streets outside shelters in areas where organized crime groups are present.”

SEE ALSO: Mexico Police Collude With Criminals to Kidnap, Extort Migrant

Even with resource constraints, shelter workers continue to do all they can to provide for migrants despite the risks, which now not only include targeted violence but also exposure to coronavirus, as happened to Father Pantoja.

Without the shelters, migrants become less visible to those who want to help them, and more cut off from information. 

“Shelters help share understanding on what’s happening to migrants when they travel and the risks they may face on the journey, but with facilities closing or limiting their services in the face of fewer resources and COVID, you lose that close interaction and a big source of information,” Maureen Meyer, the Vice President for Programs at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and an expert on Mexico, told InSight Crime.

Migrants, however, also communicate among themselves using informal channels that continue to exist outside of migrant shelters to share details on areas to avoid and preferred smuggling services, among other things, according to Jeremy Slack, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has written extensively about migration and the US-Mexico border.

“It might be harder to get official information on the government’s shifting migration policies or the rights of migrants to seek asylum, but there are so many different ways information is shared, whether that be on social media, WhatsApp or people they meet and talk to on their journey,” said Slack.

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging in Mexico, shelter services for migrants will likely remain in limbo. But this doesn’t appear to be deterring those fleeing the devastation and economic damage wrought most recently by back-to-back hurricanes and the pandemic in Central America. The United States’ political transition has created fresh hopes for many to start a new life far from the violence, socio-economic hardship and other factors that had made life unbearable at home.

Indeed, on January 5, migration authorities in Guatemala announced plans to restrict a new caravan already planning to leave Honduras for the United States.

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

MEXICO / 5 DEC 2013

A new self-proclaimed guerrilla army in the state of Guerrero in Mexico has called for the creation of more…

MEXICO / 30 MAY 2012

Mexico's military discovered over 1.5 million liters of stolen oil in Veracruz state, a region dominated by the Zetas, pointing…

MEXICO / 8 MAY 2017

A new US government report on lesser-used drug trafficking techniques such as tunnels and ultralight aircraft further undermines claims that…

Institutional Content

THE ORGANIZATION

Strategic Communications Manager Job Description

12 FEB 2021

InSight Crime is looking for a full-time strategic communications manager. This person needs to be able to work in a fast-paced world of daily news, high-profile investigations, national and international…

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …