By Rocio Gallegos / La Verdad
With police leading the way, Ciudad Juárez government officials and employees on Monday evicted migrants who remained in a camp set up on the sidewalks around the city hall building – across the street from a migrant detention center where 40 migrants died in a fire in March.
Armed city police officers, including Chief César Omar Muñoz Morales, shoved their way through the camp, destroying tents where migrants were staying while awaiting their appointment to cross into the United States to seek asylum.
“This is an outrage, you don’t do this,” one of the migrants shouted while a woman tried to prevent police from dismantling the tent where she had slept for almost two months with her two children.
Police patrols surrounded the migrant camp at about 6 p.m. Monday, closing off streets to traffic to allow units from the city’s clean-up, civil protection and rescue offices to enter and clean the area.
The officials, including city council member Héctor Rafael Ortiz Opinel, repeatedly told the migrants that they could not continue staying in that place and offered them transfers to a temporary shelter that the city set up.
The new city shelter consisted of two large soft-sided tents with portable toilets and air conditioning and was set up about 330 yards from the makeshift campsite near the Stanton Street international bridge.
“The migrants cannot be here, they are being offered a transfer,” Ortiz Opinel said.
Shelter in a flood zone?
Environmentalists from the Árboles en Resistencia collective denounced the government’s move, claiming that the temporary shelter was erected in an area they say is considered a flood zone by federal authorities.
Juárez mayor Cruz Pérez Cuéllar on Monday said that the city government assured him the camp meets the migrants’ basic needs.
Ortiz Opinel said that the area where the tents were installed is not subject to flooding, but even so, there will be personnel trained to respond to any emergency. He said that site was chosen because it is an area close to the camp and the border with the United States.
He said that officials talked with migrants for several hours to ask them to move to the temporary shelter set up by the city.
“They are being given a better alternative, 330 yards away. There are services; it is a space where they can come and go when they want,” Ortiz Opinel said.
He said that the police presence was requested to maintain order in the place because some migrants refused to leave.
“This is mistreatment dressed as protection,” said Mayra, a Venezuelan who sat on some blankets while she watched the police chief destroy the sun shelter under which she and her partner were sleeping.
Many of the migrants, primarily men, held their hands above their heads as they were pushed away by police officers.
The council secretary said that the actions were carried out in the presence of personnel from the State Commission for Human Rights. However, they were not seen in the area, even as the migrants asked for them, saying “we want you to come see this.”
At the site, only the city’s human rights director Santiago González Reyes, was seen. He declined to make any statements.
While the eviction was taking place, dozens of migrants left the site, ignoring the authorities’ offer and claiming police took their cell phones. They carried some of the things they were able to salvage before the cleanup staff carried off the remains of their destroyed tents, their blankets and their clothes, along with cardboard, rubbish and garbage.
“We don’t want to move, we’re not going to move from here, even if they throw our tents away,” a teenager yelled as she sobbed after being pushed out of her tent by a police officer. She said that they were not going to go to a shelter because they were afraid of a tragedy like the March 27 fire at the migrant detention fire.
Human rights activists from Movement Against Militarization arrived at the camp, warning officials that they were violating the migrants’ rights.
Not the first time
This is the second migrant makeshift camp that has been torn down by Juárez authorities. In late November, authorities tore down a campsite along the banks of the Rio Grande where hundreds of migrants from Venezuela were waiting to cross into the United States.
The camp that was torn down Monday started building up on March 28, a day after the detention center fire where migrants congregated to check on their friends and family, hold vigils for the victims of the fire, and protest against the authorities who failed to unlock the cell where the migrants were being held.
Most of the people who were at the site – some 250 people according to the city – came from Venezuela, but there were also migrants from Central America.
Confused, some people decided to go to the temporary shelter set up by the city, including women with children, adolescents and some families. Many rejected the officials’ offer and went to other places in the downtown area in search of refuge.
City officials reported that the operation ended by 9:45 p.m.
“Those who for a moment were reluctant ended up accepting the support and the transfer,” city officials told media – and on social media provided images of police officers distributing pizzas and soft drinks to the migrants.