By MARÍA VERZA, Associated Press
MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government has dismantled a massive migrant camp in the southern state of Oaxaca where tens of thousands of migrants have obtained temporary transit documents on their way to the United States border.
The move comes just days before a December 21 deadline set by a United States federal judge to end asylum restrictions that have been used to expel asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The National Immigration Institute announced the closure of the camp in the remote town of San Pedro Tapanatepec in a statement Monday night without explaining its reasons. The agency said it would continue supporting migrants in other installations, without specifying where.
Town officials in San Pedro Tepanatepec had requested the closure, which had been rumored for weeks. The camp originally opened in late July as a way to relieve pressure on the southern city of Tapachula at the border with Guatemala. Migrants accumulating there had grown increasingly frustrated with the long wait for documents and lack of job opportunities.
Under U.S. pressure to control the flow of migrants, Mexico had tried to contain them within the southernmost part of the country. But with its asylum system overwhelmed by applications from people who in most cases just want safe passage to the U.S. border, Mexico began issuing more temporary documents that give migrants a matter of days to travel within the country. Even with such documents, many migrants have reported authorities in other parts of the country destroying their papers and shipping them back to the southern border.
Still, the U.S. government had reported record numbers of migrant encounters at the border in the past year.
The migrants who were in the San Pedro Tapanatepec camp are expected to make their way north. It was not immediately clear if Mexican authorities would revert to trying to keep them in the south.
At its height, there were an estimated 15,000 migrants at the camp, which was made up of several large tents on the outskirts of town. Migrants typically spent several days there awaiting documents and then moved on.
Most hailed from Venezuela and Nicaragua and had been steered there by Mexican authorities.
According to federal government data, through early November, more than 135,000 migrants had passed through the camp, 50,000 of them just in October. The government has not published numbers for November and December, but the nongovernmental humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, which has a presence in the town, said the government had continued issuing documents to the end and had accelerated the process in the final days.
“What we saw was that the number of immigration personnel increased, the speed of the process increased a lot and the same day (the migrants) could go” with their documents, said Helmer Charris, part of the Doctors Without Borders team there.
On Tuesday, he said their staff continued doing medical checks on the migrants who remained, which he estimated between 1,000 and 3,000. The migrants were “very tense, very frustrated because they don’t know what to do.”
San Pedro Tapanatepec city officials also complained of the lack of information. Modesto Martínez, municipal secretary, said immigration officials just told them they were leaving. “The people were stranded, waiting for information, but there wasn’t any and many went on without permission, adrift,” he said.
Charris said that members of the National Guard, army and police tried to disperse the migrants peacefully Tuesday.
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