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Conditions worsen in migrant camps on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border

(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Migrants shelter in a makeshift camp near the border with the U.S., in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico September 21, 2021. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

By Daina Beth Solomon

CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico (Reuters) – Conditions deteriorated in migrant camps on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border on Wednesday where thousands of mostly Haitian migrants have gathered, as pressure mounted on U.S. President Joe Biden to curb expulsion flights.

Reuters images showed people with small babies and toddlers, one with an untreated hernia on his stomach, under makeshift shelters made out of reeds on the banks of the Rio Grande river in Del Rio, Texas.

Clothing was hung out to dry and trash was strewn on the ground, while parents washed their children using jugs of river water and tried to find patches of shade in the punishing heat. Migrants said food remained scarce and there were not enough portable toilets.

Mexico and the United States were on Wednesday preparing to fly more Haitian migrants away from the camps.

At its peak, there were as many as 14,000 people camped out under the international bridge in Del Rio, but U.S. authorities have moved thousands away for immigration processing and deported more than 500 Haitians since Sunday. The deportation flights to Haiti would continue, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said.

Some Haitians have been released into the United States and allowed to pursue their immigration cases, according to media reports. The DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to request for comment on the releases and did not say how it was decided who would be expelled and who would be released.

On Wednesday morning, a trickle of people – mostly men – crossed back into Mexico across the Rio Grande in search of food, while a line of U.S. border patrol cars on the upper banks of the river stood by.

Some have decided to stay on the Mexico side in Ciudad Acuna, across from Del Rio, because of shortages of food and poor conditions on the U.S. side. By Wednesday, around 200 people had set up a handful of camping tents and tarps as shelter.

One family was constructing a hut out of cardboard boxes. A line formed outside a Doctors Without Borders truck hoping to get medical consultations, with one woman worried about her 7-year-old son with a cough.

U.S. politicians from both parties have criticized Biden’s handling of the situation.

Authorities have ordered an investigation into an incident over the weekend in which mounted U.S. border agents used reins like whips to intimidate migrants trying to cross the river. Photographs and video of the agents on horseback sparked widespread condemnation. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the agents involved had been pulled from front-line duties.

The expulsion flights to Haiti have also faced criticism. There is profound instability in the Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, where a presidential assassination, rising gang violence and a major earthquake have spread chaos in recent weeks.

Filippo Grandi, the head of the U.N refugee agency, has warned that expulsions to such a volatile situation might violate international law.

‘IT’S DIFFICULT’

Most of the Haitians have not arrived direct from Haiti. Many had previously tried to settle in South America, but recounted difficulties finding work amid pandemic-related restrictions and the economic downturn.

Now some are having second thoughts.

In Ciudad Acuna, Haitian migrant Maurival Makenson, 31, said his older sister was making her way to the U.S.-Mexico border from Colombia but he was trying to persuade her to turn back.

“I tell her it’s difficult to get papers, there’s deportation,” he said.

Some of the deported Haitian migrants on Tuesday reacted https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/us-says-4000-haitian-migrants-moved-border-four-more-flights-come-mayorkas-2021-09-21 angrily as they stepped off flights in Port-au-Prince after spending thousands of dollars on arduous voyages.

On Tuesday, after talks with Haitian government representatives, Mexico said repatriation flights would be offered to those “who wish to return to their country.”

At the same time, Mexico has begun flying migrants away from the U.S. border, as well as sending some by bus towards its border with Guatemala in the south. The Mexican flights to the south of the country have sent some 130 people to the southern Mexican city of Villahermosa, and another 130 people to the city of Tapachula on the Guatemala border, a Mexican government official said.

On Tuesday evening, officers from Mexico’s national migration institute (INM) entered two budget hotels on a small street in Ciudad Acuna and escorted about two dozen migrants, including toddlers, onto vans.

One woman, speaking from behind a partition, told Reuters she did not know where they were being taken.

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