The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) forced some 60,000 asylum seekers looking for safety in the United States (US) back to Mexico to await their hearings. Since MPP was implemented in February, 2019, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières has provided medical and mental health care to many of those who were left to wait in limbo in makeshift tent camps along the Rio Grande, or in dangerous border cities where they are vulnerable to kidnapping, extortion, and other forms of violence.
In a makeshift tent camp in Matamoros where some families have lived in unacceptable conditions for more than a year, our teams provide mental health care to residents of the camp. An alarming number of our patients spoke about the sexual violence they experienced on their way to the US, others lived in constant fear of being kidnapped, and many also had children to protect and provide for.
On February 19, 2021, the US government announced that it would gradually begin processing asylum applications for people in MPP. This has renewed the hope of many migrants in Mexico.
MSF remains concerned for the thousands of migrants and asylum seekers on the border and elsewhere in Mexico who are still waiting for their cases to be heard.
Patricia Betanzos, an MSF psychologist, has provided mental health care to asylum seekers in Matamoros for almost two years. Here, she talks about the challenges her patients face, the impact of waiting indefinitely for their asylum hearings, and the compounding factors that have caused some of them to lose the will to live.
A difficult winter
I think they have been very cold, considering their tents are made out of plastic, they are out in the open and they do not really have adequate blankets or clothing. Even more so when you think that within this community you can find everyone from newborn babies to elderly people. We have identified respiratory problems, which people try to treat with home remedies or by coming to our medical office, but [not everyone seeks care] because many are afraid of having to isolate [due to the threat of COVID-19].