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.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

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.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

MEXICO / 2 AUG 2021

After a spate of attacks on oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico this year, the shipping industry is demanding…

MEXICO / 7 DEC 2021

A daring prison break in central Mexico was focused on freeing the leader of a relatively modest oil theft group,…

MEXICO / 16 APR 2021

After the discovery of several elaborate tunnels used to siphon fuel to two hidden warehouses, it's clear that Mexico's gas…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…