Héctor Rolando Barrientos Dardón died on Tuesday during a fire at the Tenosique Migration Station, an immigrant detention facility near Mexico’s border with Guatemala in the state of Tabasco. His death occurred during a protest by several men who were denouncing their ongoing detention in the overcrowded facility, a situation which puts their lives at risk in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the protest a sleeping mat caught on fire. According to witness testimony collected by staff at La 72, a nearby shelter and human rights organization we work with, guards at the migration station refused to let people leave the facility, locking the gates and threatening to beat anyone attempting escape, including men, women and children. As a result of the fire, Barrientos, a forty-two year old man from Guatemala, was killed, and fourteen other people were seriously injured. A group of migrants did finally break down the door to the men’s area where the fire began and were able to get people out. Barrientos was seeking asylum in Mexico. According to this press report, he should have been released on Thursday, April 2 to pursue his case.
Migrante hondureño relata parte de lo sucedido al interior de la cárcel migratoria de Tenosique, #Tabasco, al momento del motín e incendio, donde una persona perdió la vida.@CNDH @ONUDHmexico @ACNURamericas @OPSOMSMexico pic.twitter.com/i3aAkyWUj7
Our partners in the Franciscan Network on Migration, La 72 house for migrants , issued a press release denouncing the actions of guards and local police, as well as the ongoing failure of Mexico’s National Institute on Migration (INM) to secure the rights of migrants in Mexico. They also expressed concern that the National Human Rights Commission did not send anyone to investigate the fire, despite the Commission’s earlier call on March 19th for the INM to “implement precautionary measures to safeguard the physical, psychological, health and life conditions of migrants housed in immigration stations."
In the same press release, La 72 raised additional concerns about the subsidiary impact of the U.S. policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico, which is straining an already unsustainable situation:
Last weekend we received in La 72 three Honduran people: a mother, with her 15-year-old daughter, and a male adult, deported from the United States and Mexico. They first crossed into Texas, where they were captured by border patrol agents and immediately deported to Reynosa, remaining in custody of Mexican immigration. During their confinement at the Immigration Station, the mother and daughter were denied consular representation and the possibility of requesting refuge in Mexico. They were told they would have to do so in the south. On March 24, they signed their deportation order, indicating that they would be returned across the border from Talisman, Chiapas....The INM breached the deportation order and transferred them to the border port of El Ceibo, in Tabasco, where they were forced to cross through a blind spot, irregularly and clandestinely, towards Guatemala in order to continue on their journey to Honduras. The Guatemalan army intercepted them at the border and returned them to Mexico again. These abusive practices not only violate fundamental rights, such as the principle of non-refoulement, but also put the life and integrity of the deported persons at risk.
The release ends with three demands:
- The National Institute on Migration must carry out a thorough investigation into the death in Tenosique, clarify internal responsibility and take urgent measures to ensure that no more deaths occur in migration stations.
- The government of Mexico, in the context of the pandemic, should stop the arrest of migrants, release people detained at migrant stations, and guarantee the safe return of those who wish to return.
- Authorities at the local, state and federal level of government must work to guarantee the rights of migrants to health and protection permanently and with special attention for the duration of the pandemic.
Yesterday, La 72 joined hundreds of other organizations in Mexico in issuing a second statement further denouncing Mexican immigration authorities and calling for the firing of the head to National Institute on Immigration. The letter notes that the death in detention was the result of systemic abuses. They also state that, "keeping people in immigration detention, at serious risk of Covid-19 infection, is a violation of human rights and an attack on the lives of migrants and those who work in immigration stations." For these reasons the organizations demand "the immediate dismissal of the INM commissioner." You can read the full text of the organization letter here (in Spanish)