Hector Rolando Barrientos Dardón, a 42-year-old Guatemalan and asylum seeker in Mexico, was suffocated inside the Tenosique immigration station, Tabasco, on March 31. The man had fled with his wife, a stepson and a sister-in-law because he was being persecuted in his native country. His request was pending at the Mexican Refugee Aid Commission (Comar) and yet the National Migration Institute kept him locked up in the migration station where he lost his life. The death occurred during a fire caused by other foreigners, unhappy with the overcrowded situation that put them at risk of contracting COVID-19.
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Seven months after the events, the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) issued a recommendation pointing to seven MMO officials for Barrientos Dardón’s “infringement of the right to life” as they did not take the necessary steps to protect him.
According to the CNDH, officials violated the right to dignified treatment and personal integrity by not ensuring safety during the accident, protecting health by not providing medical and psychological care, and life, for not protecting the victim. In addition, the rights of 20 unaccompanied minors who were locked up in the migration station without being channeled to the DIF were infringed.
Recommendation 69/2020, dated 30 November, is addressed to the COMMISSIONER of the INM, Francisco Garduño, who is urged to work with the Executive Commission on Victim Care (CEAV) to compensate 60 of the migrants inside the detention centre that night and to assist with an administrative investigation that determines the responsibility of the officials.
Animal Politics wanted to know the version of the INM, but at the close of the edition had received no response.
The fire and the death of Barrientos Darpón was investigated by the State Attorney General’s Office (FGE) of Tabasco, which imputed four citizens of Honduran nationality. Three of them have already been sentenced to 13 years in prison in abbreviated proceedings for “aggravated murder by fire” and another is pending their hearing as they decided to go ahead with their oral trial.
“The main perpetrators are the institutions, not the migrants who were locked up,” said Alejandra Macías Delgadillo, director of Asylum Access and the victim’s family representative in the criminal complaint they filed with the FGE.
In this sense, the CDNH admits that it was the migrants who set the mattresses on fire and caused the smoke caused by the death of Barrientos Darpón. However, it ignores the context of overcrowding, fear of contagion and lack of information inside the detention centre that ended up exploding in the March 31 riot. In fact, less than a month later, the station was temporarily closed after the CNDH said it did not have the minimum conditions to guarantee the rights of persons deprived of liberty within it.
Risk of contagion
The CNDH does not merely point out the liability of officials not to assist the victim of the accident. It points to a number of structural deficiencies inside the detention centre that are at the origin of the protest that ended with the death of the Guatemalan. From the overcrowding of foreigners without hygiene measures against the coronavirus to the lack of alternatives to detention, the human rights institution censors both the treatment of the fatality and the treatment of the fatality and that of the 156 people inside the migration station, including minors.
The accident took place on the night of March 31 when a riot was recorded inside the migration station. At the time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Central American countries had closed their borders, so Mexico had no chance of deporting them. In addition, the INM not only had to manage the people their officials held, but also those returned from the United States through Title 42. In the first weeks of the pandemic, until the institution decided to empty the migration stations, protests were recorded in several detention centres, most seriously tenosique’s.
The CNDH acknowledges that before the protest began migrants were deprived of their freedom (the MMO uses “hosted” euphemism, although they cannot leave freely) and that their vulnerability situation was “obvious”, as there was no option to save the safety distance to avoid COVID-19.
On the day of the events, 156 people were locked up throughout the compound and 62 in the men’s area, which means they did not have access to “a decent space.” In his charge, three INM officials, who were to be on the watch of the entire station. For CNDH, the lack of space and the danger of COVID-19 contagion, the absence of medical care for people with previous conditions, and the lack of psychological care for people in a situation of severe stress are conditions that explain the mutiny.
After a while locked up, fearful of being able to get infected and without receiving answers from the authorities, a group of migrants began the protest. To do this they burned several mattresses, causing a toxic smoke that would end up killing Barrientos Darpón.
Read more: CNDH and INM accuse the test of lying about COVID at immigration stations, but no evidence shows
“The elements of the INM laughed”
The account of migrants and officials is completely different at this point. Officials say they opened the doors and tried to assist foreigners, who in the midst of panic made evacuation difficult. The inmates, without exception, claim that the doors were locked and that they had to break them to get out and get some air.
The evidence found by the CNDH agrees with the migrants, as in their inspection on 1 April, hours after the accident, they saw at least one door knocked down and the padlock broken, which is consistent with the foreigners’ version.
“We all ran to the gates but the INM guard didn’t open the doors, I went to find my relatives in the women’s area, the elements of the INM did nothing, they just laughed, a group managed to get into the station and they took out Barrientos Darpón, but he was already deceased,” says one of the testimonies.
Irregularities don’t end here. The migratory station lacked fire extinguishers that could have been vital to extinguishing the fire. In addition, the burning of the mattresses was filmed by security cameras and officials had half an hour from when they started stacking them until the smoke started coming out. At this time, according to the CNDH, they did nothing.
The CNHD acknowledges that the fire was caused by four people, of Honduran origin, currently indicted with murder. However, he believes that what happened “could have been avoided.”
Beyond the facts, the CNDH also holds the INM responsible for infringing the rights of foreigners who were locked up. On the one hand, he believes that residence cards could have been given for humanitarian reasons, something that was done two weeks after the tragedy. On the other hand, it recalls that there were asylum seekers before the Comar who could have been allowed to pursue their process in freedom. In fact, Animal Politics was able to know at the time of the events that Barrientos Darpón had barely two days left locked up when he was the victim of smoke.
The management of the MMO in relation to COVID-19 has been harshly criticized by human rights organizations and the CNDH. Recently, Animal Politics revealed the lack of control in migratory stations: since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 40,000 people were arrested and locked up, but only 78 tests were carried out, of which 52 were positive.
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