Migrant Caravans in Mexico: The flight from a jail city

By Louisa Brain|October 11, 2021|Uncategorized|0 comments

The following article was first published in Spanish in Pie de Pagina (02/09/2021): https://piedepagina.mx/caravana-de-migrantes-huir-de-la-ciudad-carcel/ ). It is written as a Collective Text from the (Im)Mobility in the Americas and COVID-19 project being conducted by Noda Mexico* and is shared via the Life Facing Deportation Project – exploring the impact of deportation regimes on the lives of migrant communities in Mexico, Guatemala and the USA.

The caravans are proof of how the use of cities as a containment strategy has failed. Unlike the support given to the caravans of Autumn 2018, this radical political action implemented by Haitian migrants from Tapachula has received little support and even less coverage in the mainstream media. Migrant advocates ask Mexican society to get involved.

Photo: Rogelio Morales / Cuartoscuro

“Please, Mr. President. I am writing these words to say that we immigrants are having a very bad time. The only thing we are asking of you is to be free, to be able to live without fear, without fear of being caught by migration. Today we have been walking for three days. We want a bus to go to Mexico City. The reason we left Chiapas is because there are no jobs, we are homeless, we are hungry, we are on the street women with children, pregnant women. Chiapas can’t take it anymore. The most complicated thing is that when we want to leave Tapachula (Chiapas), they are expelling us through the border with Guatemala. That is unfair, it is an abuse of power and a violation of human rights. It is xenophobia. As refugees and migrants, we deserve different treatment. Give us a better way to move or work. ”  

Manifesto of Haitian caravans recovered by the Collective for the Observation and Monitoring of Human Rights in Southeast Mexico. August 31, 2021, while they tried to advance to leave Chiapas.

What is happening here is that human rights are being violated, refugees are people who left their country because of threats. If we are here, it is because we are looking for a better life. People who have papers should not simply be grabbed, put on a bus and taken to Guatemala; that is a violation of human rights. There are people who have one-year visitor cards, who have residency permits, who have the paper that says “Tapachula, Chiapas”; those same people are grabbed and taken to Guatemala. That should not be: that is racism, that is a violation of human rights, that is why we are fighting, why we spent a week demonstrating all day, every day. The caravan is for that, so that we can move around and look for work, because we have to pay for a house, we have to eat, and there are people who are sleeping in the park and looking for work all day in the rain. Women with children, pregnant women. […] The caravan is because they don’t want to make a decision with us. […] We are looking for a way to get out of Chiapas because in Chiapas there is no way to live because people are treating you like animals, your rights are being violated. So, if we are refugees, we are fighting so that we can get out and look for a way to live so that we can eat. ” 

Haitian caravan. August 28, 2021: Testimony recovered at the foot of the road by Chirla Mexico

These are just two of many testimonies that explain the causes that gave rise to a new caravan of migrants and refugees in August 2021 that attempted to transit through Chiapas at the end of the second pandemic in August. People organized themselves into a caravan, an established form of group transmigration, in order to get out of the hell that Tapachula has become for them, in southern border between Mexico and Guatemala. 

They migrate in this way because the local population, as explained by migrant advocates in various statements, exacerbates discrimination against Haitians because they are black. It is because of systemic racism that Haitian families are stuck in that “prison city”; For this same reason, they also cannot find jobs and, when they can find accommodation, must pay far higher rents.

For this reason, for Arturo Viscarra, a Salvadoran-American lawyer working in Chirla to defend the rights of migrants, says “the caravans are an example of the failure of the containment strategy in a prison city.” Unlike the caravan autumn of 2018, on this occasion, this radical political action implemented by Haitian migrants has received little support and even less media coverage in the major mass media. In an interview, Viscarra explains: “I do not see the involvement of Mexican society, I believe that the population in Mexico needs to become more involved to manifestly oppose violence. I do not understand why this is not a priority for the progressive sectors of Mexico. If no one complains, there will be more racism and xenophobia”.

The Effects of Outsourcing American Legal Violence

The Mexican State reinvents itself every day in its modes of violence and control of human mobility. The treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in Mexico is a clear example of this. In recent days, we have observed images of hundreds of migrants walking in a caravan from Tapachula, seeking to get out of what they call the “prison city”, being harshly repressed, tortured, detained, separated from families and deported.  Once again, this caravan of 2021 is made up mostly of young people, women and children. This confirms the trend of what we have called the familiarization of transmigration in Mexico. 

Two migrant caravans left on Saturday 28 and Monday 30 August 2021. In the media they have been referred to as “Haitian caravans” due to the obvious role played by Haitians. However, these forms of group transmigration are examples of migrant struggles marked by the diversity of genders, ages, ethnicities and nationalities. Through journalistic coverage – especially by freelance colleagues who recognize a lack of interest in offering global coverage about the caravans through the mass media – we see the presence of Venezuelan families and a significant number of Honduran families as well.

It seems essential to us to highlight the political agency of Afro-descendant groups in these episodes of struggle. Since the short-lived caravan that arose from the Assembly of Africans in Tapachula in August 2019 and which was immediately intercepted by the military, no other migrant caravan has been formed that was not led by Hondurans or Salvadorans.

From their testimonies and complaints, we understand that the caravaners had exhausted their possibilities of waiting in Tapachula for an appointment at the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) or for a resolution to their immigration process before the National Institute of Migration (INM). Tired and faced with the lack of information and accountability, systemic racism and abuse by the immigration and police authorities of Mexico, they decided to break the limits of Tapachula. Pregnant women, families with children in their arms, couples pushing wheelchairs continued their journey north. Since the caravans set off, we have witnessed how their protagonists have been brutally repressed, trampled on and abused through unprecedented practices of torture by Mexico, a country that has lived through multiple and diverse security and human rights crises. Yet, the more violence the public institutions and organized and disorganized crime groups exert in their attempts to atomize these families in transit, the more starkly their migrant struggle becomes evident. This time, in addition to walking across borders, refugees and migrants chanted slogans in Creole (Caribbean language) and Spanish demanding freedom of transit and respect for their fundamental rights. 

For many, this struggle has been long lived. They come from Haiti, a country that has not been their home for many years, or from South American countries that do not offer them any future prospects. When we see them walking on the roads of Chiapas, they have already crossed the Andes, the Amazon, the Darien and all of Central America. They are women, children and men of the diaspora. 

Tiredness comes from afar … Haitian migrations through Latin America

Haitian migrations through Mexico did not begin on Saturday morning, August 28, 2021, when the first caravan left Tapachula after a week of protest in the city centre. Undoubtedly, the recent assassination of the Haitian head of state and the latest earthquake are new triggers for the Haitian diaspora in the region. However, Haitians have been transiting through Mexican territory for at least five years and come from farther south. On foot they have scratched the map of Latin America and the Caribbean from top to bottom and vice versa several times over the last few years.

From the political and economic crisis unleashed in Brazil in 2015, the most tragic result of which is the neo-fascist government of Jair Bolsonaro, to Piñera’s anti-immigrant and racist policies in Chile, as well as from Peru, Ecuador and other countries where they have few or no prospects, these people, with or without children, have been traveling a corridor that connects South America with the rest of Central America until they reach places on the northern border of Mexico, especially but not only Tijuana, Rosarito and Mexicali. But it is one thing to live in Tijuana, one of the largest industrial centres in Mexico, and another to try to do this in Tapachula. During last week’s protests, their posters shouted “We want a migration response”, “We can’t wait” and, “Tapachula is already full with Haitian migrants and others.” 

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with the closing of the borders between Panama and Costa Rica, many migrants were stranded in makeshift camps in the jungle. The International Organization for Migration reports that more than half of them were Haitians. Since the reopening of the Central American borders, at the beginning of 2021, mobilities were reactivated and now, in Mexico, migrants are required to wait an indeterminate length of time to get answers from closed windows and always busy telephone lines. Waiting has become a way of governing migration in Mexico, at least since 2019, when the sanitary contingency was decreed, and immobility and immigration containment became the new normal.  Yet while they wait, people still have to eat, work and find shelter.

And so Haitian families converge with Central American families in the south of this buffer country that Mexico has accepted to become for the United States, and in the north, they are also joined by Mexican families displaced by the multiple violence in their territories today occupied by cartels, miners and avocado trees. 

There is a whole economy of dispossession and abuse that has marked our regions and the reason why these exoduses, major and minor migrations, continue and will continue for much longer. As much as the management of migration is militarized with thousands of members of the National Guard, the attempts to migrate and take refuge where life can be lived will not cease. It is necessary to question the anti-immigrant, racist and xenophobic state engineering that has been created to stop poor and racialized people, whose migratory projects are nothing more, in most cases, than attempts to flee unsustainable life conditions towards new horizons and life opportunities.  

Everyone wants “papers” and peace of mind to start a new life. Yet we see repeatedly how States, the laws and the forms of cooperation between countries have set themselves the objective of detaining migrants and making them illegal. In the United States the government says: “stay in Mexico” and in this country it seems that our authorities want to say: “stay in Guatemala.”

This is confirmed by Viscarra de Chirla in an interview, who clearly summarizes the demands of the Haitian caravans, separated from their children and deported without due judicial process:

  1. Allow the free movement of migrants and refugee applicants throughout Mexico, not confining them to the South / Southeast Mexican belts.
  2. Allow transfer of refugee application files to cities where migrant families can manage to settle with dignity.
  3. Stop the illegal deportations of migrants and refugee applicants, and even of people who have a visitor’s card for humanitarian reasons, to Guatemala.
  4. Punish the improper collection of immigration procedures, crimes and human rights violations by INM officials who steal and physically, sexually and psychologically assault families and people detained in their operations and prisoners in detention centres (called immigration stations).
  5. Streamline the process of requesting asylum through COMAR.  Currently, decisions on requests for asylum filed in August 2021 are being delayed until January 2022, leaving migrant and displaced families completely defenceless, vulnerable to detention, deportation and expulsion to Guatemala.

These demands from migrant, refugee and forcibly displaced people challenge institutions such as COMAR, the Mexican government and Mexican society as a whole. As a collective gathered through the Research and Action Project (Im)Mobility in the Americas and COVID-19, as researchers of human mobility, but also as citizens, we are amazed, indignant, angry and ashamed of what is happening and the enormous contradictions that this represents for the current government. This is a call to society to listen to the testimonies of the refugees who walk in a caravan through our border country, to understand their stories and share their dreams, to build refuge among and for us all. 

* Collective (Im)Mobility in the Americas and COVID-19. Noda Mexico “Noda México” is a group of academics, students and of defenders of migrant rights working from Mexico. Who have gathered around the Project (In) mobilities in the Americas and COVID-19. Its members are: Ana Luz Minera, Andrea Margarita Núñez Chaim, Amarela Varela, Bruno Miranda, Felipe Vargas, Gabriela de la Rosa, Gina Garibó, Guillermo Castillo, María Cristina Gómez Johnson, María Eugenia Alonso Ramírez, Martha Balaguera, Montserrat Narro, Samantha Mino, Susana Naranjo, Valentina Glockner and Yerko Castro.  

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