Unacceptable treatment of migrants in Piedras Negras, Mexico

MSF blocked from accessing people in need

White flag with red logo of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) against sunny blue sky

© Valérie Batselaere/MSF

This week, more than 1,700 migrants who had taken shelter in an abandoned factory in Piedras Negras, Mexico—near the United States border—were surrounded by Mexican police and soldiers and prevented from leaving the premises. Authorities have begun bussing some of these people to other unsafe border cities in Mexico, where migrants are often targeted and extremely vulnerable to crime and violence.

On Wednesday, February 13, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)—which has a team in Piedras Negras—and other humanitarian organizations, were blocked from accessing the people inside the facility.

Statement from Sergio Martin, project coordinator for MSF in Mexico

“The way migrants have been treated by Mexican authorities in Piedras Negras is unacceptable. More than 1,700 people have been held against their will in an abandoned factory, surrounded by Mexican police and soldiers, confined as if they are criminals. It should come as no surprise that protests have broken out. This terrible situation was made worse when humanitarian organizations were blocked from accessing the site and when migrants were transported from Piedras Negras to unsafe border cities.

"We are concerned that people still trapped in the factory have limited access to medical care.

"We are also alarmed that the Mexican government is transporting many of the migrants to other unsafe cities along the border. Migrants in Mexico are often targeted by criminal groups and are particularly exposed to violence and abuse.

"Yesterday we were able to resume working inside the site in Piedras Negras to offer psychological help to reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety caused by this confinement and the uncertainty of these transfers. We are monitoring the location of these transfers in order to better understand the conditions in places where people are being sent. We are dealing with vulnerable people, who have traveled in a large group to avoid the violence that can be found along the route. By being forced to remain in detention in northern Mexico, they have found another type of violence.” 

Since 2012, MSF has been providing medical and mental health care in Mexico to migrants and refugees, mainly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, along the migration route through Mexico. MSF works in migrant shelters and mobile clinics in Tenosique, Coatzacoalcos, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, Matamoros, and Tijuana. MSF also operates a Comprehensive Care Center (known by its Spanish acronym, CAI) in Mexico City for victims of extreme violence.