What is happening on the southern border of Mexico?

The current situation of thousands of Africans in Tapachula, Mexico and other cities in the south of the country where they are detained or living in a street-situation is of complete despair, “Hundreds of families are in a street-situation, spending the nights and rains outdoors. We have nothing to eat, many people are getting sick, especially children and pregnant women.”

By AFSC Latin America and The Caribbean region [1]

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Since October 2018, we have been experiencing a migration and asylum crisis in Mexico, mainly caused by state political actions and speeches in response to changes in migration flows and profiles. As part of the so-called “migrant caravans” initially formed by forced migrants from northern Central America, thousands of people from Cuba, Haiti, South America and several countries in Africa and Asia have tried to travel along to the border. The crisis is a consequence of historical and structural push factors, and a national security approach that has intensified criminalization, containment, and attrition strategies for migrants and asylum seekers. Although other countries have contributed to this crisis, it is particularly due to the efforts of the United States government to dismantle its asylum system and pressure Central American countries into agreements to stop migrants from traveling north to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The southern border of Mexico is a strategic space where the crisis is visible in an increasingly dehumanizing way. For months, Mexican immigration authorities and security forces have conducted massive and violent raids against migrants, detaining men, women, and children [2] . In June of this year, the governments of the United States and Mexico agreed that Mexico would reduce migration to the United States – after threatening with the possibility of the U.S. increasing trade tariffs on Mexican products. Migratory operations were strengthened with the support and command of more than 15,000 National Guard soldiers deployed in weeks in the southern states, intensifying overcrowding in immigration detention centers [3] and increasing the number deportation cases.

Migrants who try to enter Mexico on a regular basis find the collapse of the attention to asylum seekers, due to the reduction of government budgets, the exponential increase in asylum seekers, and the bureaucracy of the National Migration Institute (INM). Add to this context the harassment, threats, and government stigmatization toward civil organizations and human rights defenders; as well as the growing social climate of xenophobia and racism in towns and regions that have been built historically thanks to migration.

What is happening with the African population in southern Mexico?

In 2018, the INM registered the detention of 2,958 people from 30 countries in Africa. From January through July 2019, there were 4,779 people detained from 33 nationalities, mainly from Angola, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Mauritania, Nigeria, Togo, and Uganda [4]. Detentions are an indirect measure of the number of people passing through a country, but it helps us recognize the increase in the number of people who have made a the dangerous journey between two continents [5]  to escape violence and poverty that live in their countries [6]; but largely to the wall that governments have converted to the Mediterranean Sea and that has forced them to look for other survival alternatives.

Traditionally, people from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean who arrived at the southern border of Mexico seeking protection in the country, United States, or Canada, received an authorization for regularization after being detained for a maximum of 60 business days. Or the government issued an "office for exit" - commonly understood as a "safe-conduct" - to leave the country by any of the borders in 20 days. However, amid of the current crisis, these possibilities have been denied by the Mexican State, leaving migrants in a bureaucratic limbo where they cannot advance on their path nor can they be deported.

The Assembly of African Migrants in Tapachula, Chiapas (a Mexican border city with Guatemala), composed of more than 3,000 migrants, recently denounced the fact that most of them had suffered immigration detention, had no access to translators, and still had to sign documents that they did not understand.

The INM has given African migrants two possibilities: the first is the regularization under the statelessness argument, even though they all have official documents from their countries. Despite this, several people have tried this process, and, in many cases, they have been denied for alleged errors in the spelling of their names on these documents. The second option is an order to leave the country along the southern border -- that is, to return to Guatemala or another country through which they crossed months ago. But none of the countries near the southern border of Mexico have the political, security, and welfare conditions that they need and have the right to request.

The current situation of thousands of Africans in Tapachula and other cities in the south of the country where they are detained or living in a street-situation is of complete despair, “Hundreds of families are in a street-situation, spending the nights and rains outdoors. We have nothing to eat, many people are getting sick, especially children and pregnant women.” [7]

Challenges and claims

Although the transit of people from other continents has existed for many years, at present the lack of political will of the Mexican government -- pressed in turn by the American government -- has generated a humanitarian crisis that civil society is now trying to respond to. On several occasions, the Mexican government’s message has been one of ignorance or an underestimation of the situation, and continues to deter and discourage people from exercising their right to migrate. 

For civil society organizations, which continue to receive state stigmatization, one of the main challenges has been the language barrier to be able to respond to concerns and listen to pains, stories, and hopes of African migrants. With the passing of time, it becomes increasingly necessary to join forces and build bridges of solidarity with other voices of support in all the territories of our continent and with other latitudes, including the African continent. 

Finally, we share the demands that have come directly from the African migrants who have become victims of the “wall” that the southern Mexican border has become:

  • For those of us who need to continue our way north, in search of protection in the United States or Canada, that the Mexican government allows us to access the Stay Card for Humanitarian Reasons without delay, so that we can move as soon as possible from Tapachula.
  • For those of us who need to benefit from international protection in Mexico, that we can access without delay the procedure for requesting the recognition of refuge.
  • For all of the affected population, we require urgent humanitarian assistance in matters of food, housing, health and hygiene, to prevent the deterioration of our physical and mental health, and the loss of human life.
  • We finally demand that the security forces ensure that no more reprisals will be committed, and no more violence will be used against us because of claiming rights and expressing our collective demands.

  AFSC LAC is part of the Southeast Mexico Human Rights Observation and Monitoring Collective, which accompanies and makes visible the human rights context on the southern border of Mexico.


  1.   https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/adolfoflores/mexico-raid-migrant-ca...
  2.   https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/03/world/americas/mexico-migration-condi...
  3.   http://www.politicamigratoria.gob.mx/work/models/PoliticaMigratoria/CEM/...
  4.   https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/african-migrants-in-america/?fbclid=IwA...
  5.   http://cdhfraymatias.org/web/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/COMUNICADO-Asamb...
  6.   http://cdhfraymatias.org/web/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/COMUNICADO-Asamb...