Mexican authorities register the first COVID-19 case inside asylum seeker camp in Tamaulipas

Asylum seekers often lack basic services at migrant shelters 

Mexican authorities register the first COVID-19 case inside asylum seeker camp in Tamaulipas
Doctor checks a Central American migrant at the so-called 'filter hotel', rented by the World Organization for Peace (WOFP) and the United Nations International Organization for Migration to host migrants top be quarantined amid the COVID-19 pandemic
English 02/07/2020 13:55 Newsroom & Agencies Tamaulipas Sandra Tovar, EL UNIVERSAL; Alfredo Peña, AP Actualizada 14:36

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Tamaulipas’ Migrants Institute confirmed the first COVID-19 case among asylum seekers. 

The patient is a 20-year-old Mexican woman who was deported from the U.S. to Tamaulipas. She is currently in hospital. 

Authorities set up a clinic a few meters away from the camp and it is run by Doctors Without Borders and other NGOs. 

The majority of asylum seekers are from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Belize, and 200 Mexicans. 

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Furthermore, around 2,000 asylum seekers are living in tents along the Mexico-U.S. border. Immigrants from Central America and other parts of the world have been stranded by the United States’ suspension of asylum hearings due to the pandemic through at least mid-July.

Last week, Andrea Leiner, a spokeswoman for NGO Global Response Management, said they had implemented measures to try to reduce the risk of the virus’ spread, but conceded it was a challenge with confirmed infections cropping up among U.S. and Mexican immigration officials and in residents on both sides of the border.

They had placed tents a meter apart, leaving them open for ventilation, and having everyone sleep head to toe to curtail the chances of transmission while people sleep.

GRM started working in the camp last September. The organization provides medical treatment with a team of medical volunteers.

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Dr. Michele Heisler, medical director at Physicians for Human Rights, and professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan, in a statement, characterized GRM’s work in the camp as “Herculean.” She criticized the U.S. policy for creating the situation and said asylum seekers should be paroled to stay with relatives in the U.S. while their cases are processed.

“Local and national health authorities in Mexico must act immediately to improve access to COVID-19 testing and care in Matamoros,” Heisler said. “The families living in the Matamoros tent city are among the most vulnerable in the hemisphere to the spread of COVID-19.”

Asylum seekers began pooling in border cities like Matamoros under the U.S. policy commonly known as “Remain in Mexico,” in which asylum seekers can make their initial request for U.S. asylum, but have to wait in Mexico for the lengthy process to play out.

More than 60,000 asylum-seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait for hearings in U.S. court since January 2019, when the U.S. introduced its Migrant Protection Protocols” policy.

There has been a concern since the arrival of the pandemic that the crowded tents and lack of proper sanitation could lead to infections in the Matamoros camp.