Translator’s Note: As the Biden administration continues to place pressure on the Mexican government to “contain” migration within its borders, migrant shelters are becoming the targets of acts of intimidation. The Quixote Center is also a member of the Franciscan Network on Migration and provides the Casa Betania Santa Martha Shelter with support. To support their work directly, click HERE. To read the letter in Spanish, click HERE.
Security Incident at the Casa Betania Santa Martha Shelter in Salto de Agua, Chiapas
Last Tuesday, on October 12, 2021 at approximately 7:30 p.m., a group of approximately eight men in civilian clothes with handguns and rifles arrived at the Casa Betania Santa Martha Shelter in Salto de Agua, Chiapas. The men arrived with a threatening and aggressive tone, demanding to enter the shelter on the grounds that they came from "the Prosecutor's Office" and wanted to verify that an alleged missing minor was not inside the shelter. However, the men did not have uniforms, badges, or any type of identification as authorities. Nor did they have any document authorizing their entry to the shelter, or supporting the alleged search for the missing child. Faced with the refusal of the shelter staff to let them in, the men tried to break the door down with stones. [The men] threatened the staff with “taking them” with them and accusing them of kidnapping and illegal retention of minors while holding their weapons pointed at the staff, until the door was opened for them.
Four armed men entered the shelter, supposedly to verify that the alleged missing minor was not there. Two men guarding the door held the psychologist violently and ordered him in obscene words not to move while pointing a gun at him. While this was happening, a migrant was attacked for having his cell phone in his hand. They took it from him and checked its contents while ordering him to uncover his face and give over his information. The other two armed men wanted to check the shelter’s offices and intake records. In several instances, they used force, displayed their weapons as a threat, and verbally and psychologically attacked the staff and migrants while walking through the shelter’s spaces, demanding that some migrants remove their masks so they could see their faces. A volunteer tried to prevent one of the armed men from accessing the shelter's offices. He was intimidated with a weapon and violently ordered to step aside. When they did not find the alleged missing minor, they took the detained psychologist to the registry offices, demanding access to the database. It was up until that moment that one of the aggressors finally identified himself as Commander Juvenal Vásquez of the prosecutor’s office.
Uniformed police officers and members of Civil Protection later arrived at the scene; however, they did not intervene in the situation.
This is the third time this year that [armed men] entered the shelter on the grounds of an alleged missing minor. In addition, it is not the first time that these kinds of aggression, threats, and raids have occurred in the Betania Santa Martha Shelter. In Salto de Agua, Chiapas, in June and July 2019, similar events also occurred, as documented in the report prepared by Frontline Defenders, the Migratory Affairs Program of the Universidad Iberoamericana Mexico City, and the Network of All Rights for Everyone, Defenders Without Walls. 
These events take place in a context in which other organizations defending migrants on the southern border of Mexico, particularly in Chiapas and Tabasco, have also been harassed and attacked for their work to defend human rights, given the increase in migratory flows in the region.
- We demand an immediate halt to the attacks and threats against shelters that provide humanitarian assistance and defend the human rights of migrants. The intimidation of defenders should not be part of the authorities’ conduct, much less when they occur in the context of the search for a missing person.
- We demand that the competent authorities implement the necessary protection measures in order to prevent the escalation of these attacks against human rights defenders of migrants, in particular, the staff of the Betania Santa Martha Shelter.
- The signatory organizations urge the Mexican authorities to recognize and allow without obstruction the work of humanitarian assistance and accompaniment carried out by human rights defenders of migrants.
- Shelter Name: Casa Betania - Santa Martha
- Location: Salto de Agua, Chiapas
- Brief description: Transit shelter that provides lodging, food, legal advice, and health services. It receives mostly people from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, some from Cuba, Venezuela, and Haitians who are starting the route north from the border points of El Ceibo, El Naranjo, and La Técnica.
- The shelter is led by three Priests and a brother of the Divine Word (SVD) of three different nationalities and three other Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary (FMM), of three nationalities, in addition to staff and volunteers.