© Juan Carlos Tomasi
25 Jun 19 27 Jun 19

Mexico: Mass arrests drive migrants underground and cut them off from medical care

MEXICO CITY/BARCELONA – Raids and mass arrests of groups of migrants near Mexico’s southern border are increasing in frequency, pushing people to travel clandestinely, driving them into the arms of criminal networks and preventing them from receiving medical care. 

In the past week, MSF teams in Coatzacoalcos and Tenosique have witnessed a number of mass arrests of migrants. One raid in Coatzacoalcos took place as an MSF team was providing migrants with medical and psychological care and handing out hygiene kits. 

As a result of the raids, migrants are increasingly avoiding places where they might be visible to police authorities and detained – including those places where basic medical services are available.

"We are already seeing the consequences of criminalising migrants and asylum seekers and forcing them underground."


“Fewer people have come for medical consultations in recent days. The conclusion is obvious: people in need of medical services are not receiving them”, says Sergio Martín, MSF Head of Mission.

Last week’s raids in Coatzacoalcos and Tenosique took place as the US announced a deal with Mexico to increase enforcement against migrants in Mexico and curb migration, with an emphasis on the southern border. 

“People are now travelling clandestinely in small groups,” says Martín. “They are forced to travel along dangerous routes, preyed on by criminal elements and without access to shelter or basic health services just when they need them most. Greater numbers of migrants are likely to resort to using people smugglers, who are the ones who stand to benefit most from these repressive measures.” 

At the same time, near Mexico’s northern border, cities such as Mexicali, Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros are temporary homes to large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers who are at risk of exploitation by criminal gangs as they wait for a chance to continue their journeys. 

"Far from being humane, the Mexican government’s repressive border policy condemns migrants – in increasing numbers children, women and entire families – to greater suffering."


New US government rules for people seeking asylum in the US force them to await their asylum hearings in Mexico. In the north, as well as Central Americans, our teams are treating increasing numbers of patients from countries including Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola or Cameroon.

“In these dangerous cities, the migrants are cannon fodder, exposed to criminal gangs whose lucrative business is the extortion of migrants,” says Martín.

MSF teams in northern Mexico routinely attend to the physical and mental injuries of migrants who have been assaulted or kidnapped by criminal gangs. The gangs aim to extort money from migrants’ relatives, either in the US or in their places of origin, in exchange for the migrants’ release. 

Over recent years, MSF has repeatedly denounced the dangerous consequences of repressive policies against migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala who flee to Mexico. Having fled poverty and violence – as witnessed by MSF teams working in those countries – they find themselves exposed to extreme violence in Mexico. 

“Far from being humane, the Mexican government’s repressive border policy condemns migrants – in increasing numbers children, women and entire families – to greater suffering,” says Martín. “It is another turn of the screw in the pain inflicted on migrants and asylum seekers.”

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