Migrant dies in riot in Mexican detention center amid coronavirus fears

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A Guatemalan migrant died and 14 others were taken to hospital after a riot broke out in a detention center in southern Mexico, authorities said on Wednesday, as tensions rise in such facilities due to the spread of the coronavirus.

It started on Tuesday evening in a detention center in the southern state of Tabasco after migrants voiced concerns about coronavirus and recent border closures, Mexico’s interior ministry and National Migration Institute (INM) said.

As cases of coronavirus rise in Mexico, concerns are mounting over how to prevent the spread of the disease among the thousands of migrants who have been waylaid in the country as a result of hardline U.S. immigration policies.

Mexico has registered 1,378 coronavirus cases and 37 deaths; its detention centers are seen as particularly vulnerable.

One 42-year-old Guatemalan died and 14 people were taken to hospitals in Tenosique and Villahermosa for smoke inhalation after migrants set fire to mattresses, authorities said, adding that 27 migrants escaped during the turmoil.

“The Tenosique migration station was cleared and the migrants were transferred to other shelters,” the authorities said.

UN agencies said in a joint statement that UN personnel in Tenosique arranged for 42 asylum seekers to be transferred from the detention center to a shelter as they continue their processes with Mexican refugee agency COMAR.

“The practice of facilitating these exits becomes more important at this time due to the health emergency caused by COVID-19,” the UN agencies said.

The statement was jointly issued by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, children’s fund UNICEF, the human rights commissioner and the International Organization for Migration

A spokeswoman for COMAR said it sought the release of 11 migrants who had sought requested with the agency. “We lament the death of Mr. Hector Rolando Barrientos Dardon, an asylum seeker,” the spokeswoman said.

Last week, rights groups in the southern state of Chiapas denounced what they called a violent crackdown on a protest in Mexico’s largest detention center.

Migrants had voiced fears that they will contract the coronavirus in the facility, which advocates have denounced for overcrowding and poor sanitation.

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