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No Way Out: Report Finds Central American Asylum Seekers Trapped in Mexico in Dangerous Conditions

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A new report by Médecins Sans Frontières — or Doctors Without Borders USA — shows how migration policies imposed by the United States and Mexico have trapped thousands of Central American migrants in dangerous conditions. Called “No Way Out,” it is based on nearly 500 interviews with Central American migrants and asylum seekers, most of whom say they were victims of extreme violence prior to leaving their home country or along the migration route through Mexico. Because of the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, which serve to deter immigration, asylum seekers are often forced to remain in Mexico, where they are often targeted by criminal groups.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about one last question. A new report by MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, shows how migration policies imposed by the United States and Mexico have trapped thousands of Central American migrants in dangerous conditions. The report is called “No Way Out.” Could you talk about it? It’s based on interviews with about 500 migrants?

AVRIL BENOÎT: Yes. What we found in the work that we’ve done — and we are offering mental healthcare in many of the areas that are along the migration route from the different Central American countries, but also working at the border, the northern border of Mexico, as people who are trying to reach the United States and/or have been sent back to the United States. What we find is that almost half of them have experienced some form of extreme violence — watching somebody from their family be killed, being kidnapped themselves, having to deal with the violent situations of their communities, of their neighborhoods — and they have fled that. They have legitimate reasons to try to find safety.

Where that safety is is not really for us to say, but we can say that sending them back or making them wait in that northern area of Mexico, where cartels are dominating, where cartels are exploiting them, where you’ve got criminal gangs that are kidnapping them and finding any which way to make money off of their presence, it’s almost like the United States policy of the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, or “Remain in Mexico,” are almost like funding these cartels in a way, in indirect form, by sending these people back to be subjected to the kind of exploitation that’s happening.

So the suffering is real. It’s a huge concern of ours. We don’t have all the policy solutions. All we can say — and, you know, again, we’re not taking a political stance insofar as this party or this platform. What we’re saying is, you cannot expect people to be safe in an area that’s controlled by criminal gangs with a long history of killing people. This is not the place that people who are awaiting their asylum claims should have to stay, in shelters, in fragile situations, where they don’t even dare go out during the day, let alone at night.

AMY GOODMAN: And then there’s the great fear that President Trump, who’s — to allay jitters because of the stock market, who’s trying to say everything’s OK, and this is going to end in the middle of April, as if he knows, would use this, though, still as a pretext to crack down even further on desperate refugees, asylum seekers.


AMY GOODMAN: And what would happen if, for example, coronavirus, as you were saying, in the camps and other places along the border?

AVRIL BENOÎT: It’s extremely concerning to us to have colleagues arrive on flights to support the efforts on the ground in a country and find that the local authorities have made a decision to quarantine them for 14 days. Fair enough that you have to quarantine people who are at high risk, who have symptoms, and the science around this, the understanding of the risks, is increasing over time. We appreciate that we all have to do our part to avoid the spread. But it’s going to be very difficult, even for us.

Think about it. There’s a run on surgical masks right now. How are surgeons supposed to get access to masks when everyone is gobbling them up and, you know, are buying them off the shelves in every warehouse imaginable? We have patients coming in for other ailments, even into hospitals here in the U.S., but because they might have coronavirus, they’re not getting the treatment they need to stay alive — dialysis or whatever else. You know, there’s a delay in the quick response, the normal quick response, of medical people, who are fearful of coronavirus. And we also know that with infection control and all the measures that we’ve acquired, you know, all that we’ve learned from outbreaks like the Ebola outbreak of West Africa and what we’re dealing with in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo now, is that even medical teams, hospitals, that you would think would know how to protect themselves, don’t.

So there’s a huge effort that must be taken seriously in terms of protection. But if the borders start closing, if people cannot flee war, if people cannot seek healthcare, even if the wall in front of them is the hospital that’s closed to them because they’re a suspected case, you can just imagine that this coronavirus will spread even more.

AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, it’s not just criminal gangs. I mean, the Mexican military, the police also brutalize Central American, Caribbean and African refugees who are coming up through the border.

AVRIL BENOÎT: There’s all kinds of suffering. And you will find this also in war zones. You can imagine in Syria, you know, you have a lot of exploitation that happens. Yes, the Syrian government and their coalition forces, including the Russian airplanes, have been a factor. You have other armed groups that have been a factor in their suffering. And then you have those who will exploit their vulnerability. I mean, these people in Idlib province who are trying to flee, they have sold everything. They had to leave everything behind. What little cash they had on them, they had to give to the truck driver that maybe piled them in to get them to safety. They have nothing left. So, you know, any situation where we have an outbreak in a crowded area, as I said before, is going to be deeply problematic to deal with, and it will only compound the suffering that they’re experiencing.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, also wanted to say that the Iranian official who has tested positive for coronavirus is Masoumeh Ebtekar. She is Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs. Avril Benoît, our guest. Avril Benoît is executive director of MSF USA. That’s Doctors Without Borders USA.

When we come back, we look at the Dominican Republic, where thousands have taken to the streets over the last weeks and yesterday on Independence Day in the Dominican Republic to protest the abrupt suspension of local elections. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Into Dust” by Mazzy Star. Founding member David Roback passed away Monday at the age of 61.

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