Video: Waiting in danger in Matamoros, Mexico

A family under plastic sheeting in Matamoros, Mexico, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
Mexico 2019 © Melissa Pracht
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Around 2,000 men, women, and children are living in tents or under plastic sheeting in Matamoros, Mexico, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas. They’re waiting for asylum hearings set many months in the future. Their makeshift shelters flood when it rains, their children get sick when it's cold; they receive few services, and are largely reliant on volunteers that bring food, clean water, and clothing.  

They are in this situation as a result of the US government's Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” a policy implemented in 2019 that requires asylum seekers coming from Mexico and Central America to wait in violent, unfamiliar towns along the Mexico-US border until their asylum hearing dates in the US. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) works in Matamoros and other cities along the border, providing medical and mental health care and social services.  

"We see now that with the new migration policy things have changed," says Nora Valdivia, MSF mental health supervisor. "Waiting times [for asylum hearings] are much longer. So we see changes in [peoples’] emotional and mental health. There is more despair and anguish. They start out with a lot of hope, but as the months go by they lose that. [Getting asylum] is their reason to keep going, and realizing that it takes up to 10 months or a year, it makes them feel devastated and increases their suffering."


 

Click here for transcript

In Matamoros—Waiting for Safety
 

[Lower thirds] Nora Valdivia
MSF Mental Health Supervisor

NORA:
Today we are in Matamoros, at the border, at the bridge between Matamoros and Brownsville-Texas.
 

[Graphic text] Entrance to Mexico-U.S. border

NORA:
As you can see, these are tents where people from different countries in Central America. Some are from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. They are here trying to apply for asylum in the United States. They are waiting for their [court hearings].

[TEXT] In November, there were nearly 2,000 asylum seekers and migrants camped out in Matamoros by the international bridge. 

NORA:
Some of them have been exposed to violence, either in their countries or on the migration route:
extortion, assault, kidnapping. Sexual violence, this happens, too.

[TEXT] In Honduras, Elena's young daughter witnessed another child being murdered by gang members. They had to leave their country immediately.

“ELENA”:
[My daughter's] life was at risk there. They wanted to kill her.

[Lower thirds] "Elena"
Asylum seeker from Honduras

“ELENA”:
That's why I immediately quit (my job with) the company where I had worked for 13 years, with my social security benefits. All those years of work were wasted. It was very sudden, from one day to the next. I had to quit my job in order to save her life. 

[Lower thirds] "Eduardo"
Asylum seeker from Honduras

“EDUARDO”:
In my country I have been hiding from criminals for the last 9 years because they wanted to kill me. ...They kidnapped me and told me that they were going to kill me. But often when you're asked for evidence of that, you don't have it because you can't make a complaint when the authorities are involved in crime.

[TEXT] MSF staff see the impact of this violence on people's mental health.

NORA:
It manifests as difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, feeling worried, feeling scared all the time, reliving a violent act over and over again. And this leads to a type of post-traumatic stress or acute stress from having experienced a violent event.

[Lower thirds] Edwin
Asylum seeker from Honduras

“EDWIN”:
I had a problem with my daughter, there
[when we were] in Tabasco [Mexico]. I can't talk about it.
I can't work, I can't leave my daughter alone with anyone, with anyone.

NORA:
We see now that with the new migration policy things have changed. Waiting times are much longer. So we see changes in their emotional and mental health. There is more despair and anguish. They start out with a lot of hope, but as the months go by they lose that. [Getting asylum] is their reason to keep going, and realizing that it takes up to 10 months or a year, it makes them feel devastated and increases their suffering.

“EDWIN”:
... Never in my life have we suffered as we have suffered here. Because... I thought that after we entered the United States, it was the law that we would be able to remain in the United States.... It didn't matter if they would send me to a shelter, but I didn't want my daughter to be living in the condition we are living now.

TEXT
Under U.S. and international law, people fleeing violence and persecution have the right to claim asylum.
But the U.S. has recently imposed a series of restrictions on access to asylum – including the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols” that actually put people’s lives at risk.

The U.S. is now turning away vulnerable people seeking safety, and pushing them back into dangerous and precarious conditions in Mexico.

[Lower thirds] "Juan"
Asylum seeker from Honduras

“JUAN”:
The most shocking part was when I was detained [in the U.S.]. It was sad for me to be without my daughter. The food they gave us...they didn't let us sleep, they woke us up all the time. And that extreme air conditioning, they never turned it off. Sometimes they made it even colder. That was the worst part of it, which I will never forget.

TEXT
U.S. policies to deter and discourage asylum seekers and migrants are having an impact.
However, nothing will stop people from trying to survive.

“ELENA”:
... If they don't give me asylum, I still won't go back, because I know that if I go back, they could kill my daughter.


TEXT
Seeking safety is not a crime.

Learn more at doctorswithoutborders.org