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Migrant justice groups on U.S.-Mexico border face harassment and threats

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Photo by Peace Brigades International.

Following the migrant caravan that travelled through Mexico to the U.S. border last October and November, a second caravan of about 2,000 people from Central America is now seeking entry into Mexico and the United States.

In May 2017, Médecins Sans Frontières‎ (MSF) noted, "68.3 percent of the migrant and refugee populations entering Mexico reported being victims of violence during their transit toward the United States [and] nearly one-third of the women surveyed had been sexually abused during their journey."

And their report explained, "MSF patients reported that the perpetrators of violence included members of gangs and other criminal organizations, as well as members of the Mexican security forces responsible for their protection."

Last week, The Los Angeles Times reported, "Participants say caravans provide security from Mexican gangs that often prey on migrants and avoid the need to pay smugglers thousands of dollars to aid them on the trip north."

It added, "Caravan members often receive free food, transport and lodging from residents, towns and aid agencies along the route, though many sleep in the open without shelter."

Peace Brigades International (PBI) provides protective accompaniment to two migrant justice groups in the Mexican state of Coahuila, which shares a 512-kilometre border with Texas.

PBI notes, "The Saltillo Migrant Shelter offers daily humanitarian assistance -- including clothes, medicines, food, rest, and medical and psychological care -- to hundreds of migrants crossing Mexico to reach the United States."

It adds, "It also defends migrants' rights through the documentation of cases of kidnapping, extortion, abuses and violations that they suffer during their journey through Mexico. The organization lodges complaints about violations after gathering migrants' testimonies."

Overall, it provides support to more than 8,000 migrants each year.

Because of this work, the staff and volunteers of the Saltillo Migrant Shelter have suffered harassment, surveillance and threats.

PBI has provided accompaniment to the Shelter since February 2014.

The Juan Gerardi Human Rights Centre, named after a Guatemalan Roman Catholic bishop and human rights defender assassinated by soldiers in 1998, provides a variety of services including a migrant shelter in Torreón, a large city also situated in Coahuila.

It also works in close partnership with the Saltillo Migrant Shelter.

PBI notes, "In 2012 its offices were broken-in by the Army, the Federal Police and the State Police. In 2013 computers with sensitive information were stolen from the organization."

 PBI has also accompanied the Centre since February 2014.

On January 18, Mexico News Daily reported, "Between 1,000 and 1,500 Central American migrants entered Mexico illegally at the southern border early this morning, one day after another large group crossed into the country legally and in an 'orderly' way."

It adds, "It remains to be seen what approach the government [of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador] will take towards those who entered illegally."

Agence France-Presse notes, "Mexican authorities are urging the migrants to cross the border legally and offering expedited 'visitor cards' that let them work and access basic health care in Mexico."

López Obrador's proposed "Remain in Mexico" plan, announced last month, is to grant visas to migrants who cross into Mexico legally in exchange for Trump agreeing to invest $30 billion over five years in southern Mexico and Central America to stem the flow of forced migration.

While many migrants have registered for visitor cards, many others have not and still seek to walk more than 3,200 kilometres across Mexico and enter the United States.

Meanwhile, CNN reports, "Trump and Congress are locked in a shutdown stalemate over funding for more wall construction. Officials say the $5.7 billion the administration is asking for would cover the cost of more than 200 miles of new and replacement wall."

Trump continues to vilify those fleeing poverty and state and corporate violence.

Historically rooted unequal economic relations, colonialism, resource exploitation, "free trade" agreements and increasing climate breakdown create the conditions which contribute to the forced migration of people.

Migrants face unjust treatment and danger crossing militarized borders as they flee these circumstances.

They face further discrimination, racism and hardship as undocumented residents in "developed" countries like Canada that often bear responsibility for the conditions which forced their migration from their home countries.

In an era with no restrictions on the flow of global capital, we should question the restrictions on the movement and freedom of people.

We should also support those who offer them material and emotional support, work to protect them and who help advocate for their rights.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo by Peace Brigades International.

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