In southern Mexico, Tapachula, a “prison town” for migrants

It was on an old cardboard that Ernst Cadet, a 34-year-old Haitian, spent the night, right next to the Refugee Assistance Commission (Comar) of Tapachula, city of Chiapas, in southern Mexico, backed by at the Guatemalan border. “I have been stuck here since June”, sighs this electrician, in a longshoreman, who left Brazil in the hope of reaching American soil. Like him, tens of thousands of illegal immigrants saw their journey stopped dead in this small town, transformed by the Mexican authorities into a migratory bottleneck.

The sun has not yet risen. But a long line has already formed in front of the large hangar at La Comar. Most are Haitians, the rest Central Americans. All hope for a refugee status or a humanitarian visa allowing them to cross Mexico, without being stopped by the soldiers who control the main roads, under penalty of being deported to Guatemala.

Anxiety and frustration can be seen on the faces. The heat is stifling. “My appointment has just been moved to the end of November”, plague Ernst, who slept there in the hope of speeding up his proceedings. But the agents of Comar are overwhelmed. “We had never seen that! “, says Alma Delia Cruz, local head of the government institution. For eight months, 77,559 asylum requests have been filed in Mexico, against 41,223 for the whole of 2020. Seven out of ten in Chiapas. “Only a third of the files could be examined”, sighs this exhausted and dismayed 30-something “A cruel lack of means”. Only eight translators from Comar interview Haitians, who do not speak Spanish.

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Authorities estimate the number of migrants in Tapachula to be between 30,000 and 40,000. But the organization for the defense of illegal immigrants, Sin Frontera, assures us that nearly twice as many are in this city of 350,000 inhabitants. Half are said to be Haitians. They congregate by the hundreds around the main square, where the town hall has placed metal barriers to prevent them from sleeping there. “This infernal circle of waiting drives you crazy”, sighs Jackner Casimir, with a slender figure. This 29-year-old Haitian mason arrived there in August, with his wife, Génésis, and his two children, aged 3 and 5. “Nobody wants to hire us. “ Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico, where nearly one in two inhabitants is poor.

Smugglers with the authorities

The Casimir family share with three friends a tiny apartment without air conditioning on the outskirts, rented for 4000 pesos (170 euros) per month. “I sleep on the floor Says Jackner Casimir. Many more are crammed into seedy hotels, whose prices have skyrocketed. “If it weren’t for the money my brother from Florida sends me, we would be starving. ” One street away, they are more than thirty queuing in front of the branch of Banque Azteca, which specializes in money transfers.

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