MSF teams care for people at every stage of the journey, including those who have been deported from the US. How do these patients describe their experiences?
People detained in the US often describe being held in what they call “the Fridge” for many days—these are very cold rooms where they don’t receive enough blankets. Many also say they don’t receive enough to eat, or that the quality of the food they do receive is poor.
It’s common for detainees to be transferred from facility to facility without knowing their rights or what’s happening to them. They are also often placed in federal prisons with convicted criminals when their only crime was crossing the border. It’s important to note that people have a legal right to seek asylum. In these facilities they’re obviously vulnerable, and many report seeing or being the victim of violence at the hands of other inmates.
MSF patients deported from the US have also reported being put on airplanes in handcuffs, with shackles on their waists, and that is also very traumatic for them. This treatment has both physical and mental health consequences. Our psychosocial teams see lots of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder among deportees who return to Honduras. These US border policies are meant to deter people from attempting to make the trip again, but what we hear is that most deportees want to keep trying. They feel like there is no hope for them here in Honduras.
How is MSF working to address the mental health needs in the region?
There is a big gap when it comes to available mental health care in [parts of] Mexico and in Honduras. We also see a lack of specialized mental health care for victims of violence. So our goal is to have mental health services in primary health facilities and also to work with the universities to provide this kind of education in their curriculums.
We work to raise awareness of these needs with politicians, universities, and nongovernmental organizations. In Honduras, a commission has been created to reform the health system. Because we have a good relationship with the Ministry of Health here, they connected us with the leaders of the commission, so now we have direct contact to push for the inclusion of mental health services.
From Yemen to Bangladesh to Democratic Republic of Congo, MSF is responding to the medical needs of displaced people in humanitarian crises around the world. Why is the situation in Central America a priority?
Whether it’s in the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, or Central America, the world is facing a migration crisis right now, and it’s happening because governments have been unable to respond properly. People here in Honduras and Mexico are fleeing their homes for the same reasons people are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean: they’re fleeing terrible violence and a deep lack of opportunity. As a medical humanitarian organization, MSF has the duty to try to alleviate the suffering of these people and to contribute to changing harmful policies.