Defender of migrants rights returns to Mexico amidst heightened security measures

Father Alejandro Solalinde, a human rights defender for migrants’ rights, decided to return to the migrants’ shelter Hermanos en el Camino (Brothers on the Road) which he has run in Ixtepec, Oaxaca, Mexico since its opening in 2007. During his return to Ixtepec, Father Solalinde was accompanied by the UN Human Rights Office in Mexico, which has documented the threats and aggressions suffered by him and the shelter’s personnel in recent years.

Father Alejandro Solalinde arrives at a migrant shelter, in Oaxaca, Mexico, 2012 © ONU-DH MexicoAfter receiving several death threats, believed to stem primarily from non-governmental actors, and in light of the lack of results in the investigations to identify and sanction those responsible, Father Solalinde left the migrant shelter earlier this year. The shelter has been operating since 2007, when there was little awareness of the plight of migrants and the abuses often committed against them.

The shelter, which lies next to a railway used by migrants, provides food, accommodation, and medical and legal aid to those who embark on the dangerous journey—including hopping unto a moving freight train—from Central and South American countries through Mexico on their way to the United States. Many of these migrants fall victim to violence, sometimes with the knowledge of authorities, by smugglers, gangs, drug cartels and human traffickers. This puts the people living in the shelter, as well as staff and Father Solalinde, all at risk.

“I opened this refuge as a space of liberty. There is no point in converting it into a soup kitchen. They must have their home here, the house of the migrants,” Father Solalinde said in a recent interview after his return. He also made public the threats received by one of the main drug trafficking cartels, the Zetas, who profit from extorting and kidnapping migrants. The shelter has adjusted its security measures to the threats and it is now protected by two police officers and monitored by cameras. It has also implemented further security protocols proposed by the UN Human Rights Office after an assessment.

Jesus Peña, Deputy Representative of the UN Human Rights Office in Mexico, accompanied Father Solalinde to the migrant shelter, where they were received by the Municipal President of Ixtepec. The Office’s support for his return will hopefully heighten public awareness on the situation of migrants and the human rights defenders who work for their rights. The Office is confident that its assistance will not only ensure protection for Father Solalinde, but also for the migrants who are seeking refuge in the shelter.

Father Solalinde visited several countries before he returned to the shelter in order to raise awareness on the fragile situation of migrants moving through Mexico. One of his visits included a meeting with the UN Human Rights Chief, Navi Pillay, in Geneva.

At a press conference on 12 July, Father Solalinde expressed his gratitude to Pillay and her Office for working together with the authorities to ensure better security conditions for his return. At the press conference, he also demanded that “more be done to find those behind the death threats which seek to obstruct his defence of migrants’ rights.”

In 2011, during a visit to Mexico, Pillay had expressed her concern for the deteriorating conditions of migrants in Mexico and the need to protect those who are providing assistance to them. “In line with its internal obligations, the Government of Mexico must make all possible efforts to protect the life and integrity of migrants, in particular women and children,” Pillay said when she met with human rights defenders on the rights of migrants, including Father Solalinde. “It should also take the necessary steps to ensure that all state officials working with migrants fully respect their rights, and that human rights defenders like Father Solalinde and police and judicial officials investigating these acts are effectively protected.”

6 August 2012

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