MEXICO CITY, Mar 25 (.) – Dozens of migrants at the largest detention center in Mexico, on the border with Guatemala, protested this week for fear of contracting the coronavirus at the facility, something that human rights defenders have denounced for a long time due to overcrowding and lack of sanitation.

The protest collided with violent repression by the federal police and national guard, according to Mexican human rights organizations.

The Human Rights Observation and Monitoring Collective in southeastern Mexico denounced the police response to the demonstration at the Siglo XXI detention center in the southern city of Tapachula on Wednesday, saying they beat the migrants and transferred them to an unknown place.

“We strongly condemn all acts of violence and disproportionate use of force against men, women and adolescents in immigration detention,” human rights organizations said in a statement.

The account is the product of interviews with witnesses and victims, said a representative of the group. . was unable to independently verify the events described.

The National Guard did not respond to a request for comment from ..

The National Institute of Migration (INM), which runs the facility, said later in a statement that “it seeks to implement actions so that migrants of Central American origin, housed in migratory stations and provisional stays of the institute, can return safely to their places of origin. “

Detainees in Siglo XXI told . last year that there were immigrants who remained there for long periods without information about their cases while denouncing severe overcrowding, food and water shortages, and limited medical care.

The center has a long history of abuse that has been reported by NGOs, including the Mexican government’s human rights defender.

Protests at the facilities have sometimes been abrupt, and security groups have defended their interventions as a necessary force to restore order.

As coronavirus cases in Mexico increase, concerns grow about how to prevent the spread of the disease among the thousands of migrants who have been hurt by America’s hard line in their immigration policies. Mexican detention centers are seen as particularly vulnerable.

“They don’t meet minimum health standards, even at best,” said Daniel Berlin, deputy director of the human rights organization Asylum Access. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that people are extremely scared.”

Asylum Access wrote to the National Migration Institute last week asking about its plan to contain the coronavirus at the facility, but has not yet received a response, explained Berlin, who said he had no details on the situation in downtown Tapachula.

In recent weeks, some activists have suspended their visits to detention centers as a precaution against coronavirus, “leaving people even more vulnerable,” Berlin said.

The conflict in Siglo XXI emerged on Monday when between 50 and 70 immigrants, mainly from Honduras and El Salvador, gathered to protest the long periods of detention, human rights groups said.

“People expressed fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus and announced their intention to start a hunger strike if they were not released,” they said. The National Guard and INM officers used macanas, water hoses, pepper spray and stun guns against the migrants, according to activists.

(Report by Julia Love and Lizbeth Díaz, written by Sharay Angulo and Raúl Cortés Fernández. Edited by Javier Leira)