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Mexico urges Haitians to give up journey toward US amid repatriations

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A man carries a child on his shoulders as Haitian migrants cross the Rio Grande river between Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila state, Mexico, and Del Rio, Texas, September 23, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Mexico urges Haitian migrants to give up their journey toward the United States, and return to a southern city in Mexico’s frontier, where tens of thousands of people have already been stranded in what they describe as a huge open-air prison.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) called on Haitians on Friday to return to the southern city of Tapachula near the border with Guatemala, and request asylum.

People who managed to cross the border from Guatemala are now waiting in the city to get permission to continue their journey toward the north.

Mexican authorities said they were trying to take migrants away from the border “so there are no hygiene and overcrowding problems.”

“We have come to coordinate care for this population that is in a vulnerable situation. Respect for these people is guaranteed,” said INM commissioner Francisco Garduno.

“The government of Mexico will provide air and land transportation to allow migrants to return to the states from which they left, to continue with their process or to support their safe return to their countries of origin,” he added.

Up to 14,000 mostly Haitians were camped just north of the Rio Grande river this month as they attempted to enter the United States.

In the meantime, dozens of Mexican immigration agents arrived at a makeshift Haitian camp in Ciudad Acuna on Thursday, urging the migrants to go back to Tapachula.

“We're giving you this option,” INM official Montserrat Saldana told a cluster of migrants circled around her. “All of you who cross the river are going straight to Haiti.”

Around 50 vehicles stopped along the banks of Rio Grande, and closed the gates to a park in Ciudad Acuna, where migrants have been staying for about a week. They restricted the entry of more people or vehicles.

Migrants say they do not want to return to Tapachula, or be deported to Haiti.

“I have nothing in my country. What am I going to do?” said a Haitian woman.

Those who made the perilous, costly journey to the US are being deported to their impoverished homeland.

In recent days, US President Joe Biden’s administration has been repatriating Haitians by air from the Texas border, despite warning from the United Nations that people with genuine asylum claims may be at risk.

The deportations have also sparked outrage among US lawmakers and politicians and rights advocates in the wake of the spread of images on social media showing a border patrol agent on horseback in Del Rio grabbing a Haitian migrant by the shirt, and pushing him back toward the river.

The US special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned on Thursday in protest in a letter that denounced the deportations as “inhumane.” 

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has in recent weeks been mired in poverty and chaos following the assassination of its president, gang violence and a major earthquake.

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