Asylum Seekers Forced To Remain In Mexico Are Being Kidnapped, Extorted And Beaten, MSF Warns

Asylum seekers in a city recently added to the Trump administration's controversial "Remain in Mexico" policy have faced kidnapping, assault and extortion, Médecins Sans Frontières has said in a warning that the city is not safe for migrants.

Branding Nuevo Laredo, a border city in Tamaulipas State, Mexico, "one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico," MSF has warned that the Trump administration's plans to force asylum seekers to remain there will put them "in extreme danger."

The city, MSF says, is "controlled by criminal groups," with asylum seekers there "constantly exposed to robbery, assault, extortion, kidnapping and homicide.

"Sending people who are seeking asylum back to Mexico and forcing them to stay in Nuevo Laredo is an unacceptable policy," said Maria Hernandez, of MSF Mexico.

"People are kidnapped at bus terminals...There are 'safe houses' where they are detained for extortion, beaten and assaulted. Some endure death threats, they are detained for long periods for forced labor, they are sexually exploited or forcibly recruited by criminal organizations," she said in a statement published by MSF.

"This policy is placing vulnerable people in areas controlled by criminal organizations, which see migrants as a commodity and a source of income," Hernandez said.

MSF Mexico, which treats asylum seekers in various shelters in Nuevo Laredo, as well as the nearby cities of Reynosa and Matamoros, said that, according to its patient data, from January to May 2019, more than 45 percent of 378 patients the organization treated "have suffered at least one episode of violence in the city, as they waited to cross into the U.S."

"Of the 378 patients treated in MSF's mental health programs so far in 2019, 45 people (12 per cent) have been kidnapped—26 of them in the seven days prior to their mental health consultation," the organization said.

"The majority of our patients don't go out in the street due to the imminent risk of kidnapping. The asylum seekers we're treating and counseling in Nuevo Laredo are from many countries, including Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and Mexico," said Hernandez.

"Without a doubt, however, it's people from Central America who are most vulnerable to kidnapping, and it is this very population which will be returned to Mexico in large numbers due to the Remain in Mexico policy."

MSF Mexico warned that Nuevo Laredo "cannot become a reception city for people seeking asylum in the U.S. and looking for protection." The city is "not a safe place to return refugees," it said.

Mexico sign
A man prepares to cross the International Bridge towards Mexico on the U.S./Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, on January 13, 2019. Médecins Sans Frontières has condemned the U.S. and Mexican governments' decision to expand the 'Remain in Mexico' policy to Nuevo Laredo, a border city in Tamaulipas State, Mexico. SUZANNE CORDEIRO/Getty