Amnesty International leaders from around the world on Friday decried the US policy of sending asylum-seekers back to dangerous Mexican border towns to wait for their immigration cases as an “international disgrace” that must be ended.
During a visit to the US-Mexico border this week, Amnesty International leaders from the US, UK, Kenya, Mexico, Greece and Canada said the Remain in Mexico, or Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), program had manufactured a crisis at the border by sending more than 50,000 people to Mexico.
The asylum seekers, mostly families from Central America, are waiting in some of the most dangerous cities in the world, where they must fend for themselves without healthcare, work opportunities or school for their children.
“The Remain in Mexico policy is nothing short of an international disgrace, rather than calling it a migration protection policy this is really a migrant rejection policy,” said Irungu Houghton, the executive director of Amnesty International Kenya. “It is incompetent, it is inhumane, and it is a cruel way of dealing with people who are fleeing for their lives.
“Rather than funding programs that deal with the reasons why people are coming into the United States of America or even dealing with the consequences of dealing with these large numbers of people, precious resources are being spent militarizing borders and building walls,” he added.
Houghton noted that Kenya is currently hosting 468,000 refugees, while the US, a much bigger country, has drastically shrunk its refugee and asylum programs.
Gabriel Sakellaridis, executive director of Amnesty International Greece, said he was shocked by the scenes at the border and the US had engineered a situation similar to Europe, which has been pushing asylum and refugee processing outside its borders.
“In both of these ways, we see the United States and Europe, who are two of the wealthiest and most prosperous areas in the world, trying to create a front yard in either Mexico, or in Turkey or in Libya, in order to avoid their obligations to international refugee law and human rights,” Sakellaridis said.
The Remain in Mexico policy started in Tijuana in January before being rolled out at other border cities. Trump administration officials have said it is effective at keeping people out of the US and is improving due process – the opposite of what advocates on the border have reported.
This month, Human Rights First revealed at least 340 reports of rape, kidnapping, torture and other violent attacks against people returned to Mexico while they wait for their case to be heard in US immigration court
Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said people they visited in camps in Matamoros, where more than 2,000 people are staying in squalid conditions, expect to be kidnapped and many had been kidnapped more than once.
“This expectation is part of the daily life waiting for their asylum cases to be considered,” Huang said. “It’s something that they all know will happen and it adds incredible stress to the already existing trauma these people have experienced.”
Kate Allen, executive director of Amnesty International UK, said “people’s lives are absolutely being ruined” by the Remain in Mexico policy.
“This chaos of 50,000 people is completely self-inflected and unnecessary,” Allen said.
Like the other leaders, she commended the work of shelter operators in Mexico, legal aid providers, teachers and other volunteers trying to help refugees at the border. Allen said: “In all this what is quite wonderful is to see the way that civil society on both sides of the border is doing absolutely everything it can do, so ordinary people, who are taking action.”