As police in riot gear stood outside, dozens of Central American caravan members refused on Friday to leave a private warehouse near the U.S. border where they have camped out since mid-December.
Members of the group defied orders by Mexican authorities to vacate the premises of the shelter they call Contra Viento y Marea — Against Wind and Tide — saying they wanted to remain near the U.S. border and had been told they could continue to use the shelter through Jan. 24.
Federal health authorities said there was no such agreement, and ordered migrants to leave the warehouse. At noon, officials from the Mexican federal health agency known as COFEPRIS posted official notifications that the shelter was closed.
Inspectors “determined that there are no conditions to guarantee health,” said Salvador Morales Riubi, a federal health official. “People are at grave risk,” he said, especially with dropping temperatures.
Throughout the day, uncertainty prevailed inside the shelter, and it was not always clear who was leading the group. One spokesman was Amsi Nuñez, a nurse from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. “This warehouse has been our hope,” he said, adding that residents have made efforts to keep the facility clean and in order.
The shelter was opened in the middle of last month to accommodate hundreds of members of the Central American caravan that brought close to 6,000 people to Tijuana in November. The group had refused to leave the Zona Norte, preferring to remain camped out in the street rather than move to a shelter in eastern Tijuana, known as El Barretal.
“Our dream is not El Barretal,” said Nuñez.
The opening of the warehouse provided a temporary solution, allowing a smaller group of migrants to pitch their tents and store their belongings inside a borrowed warehouse. Some said they were staying to remain closer to the San Ysidro Port of Entry, where they are preparing to seek asylum. Others said they wanted to be nearer to their jobs.
In recent days, the population of the Contra Viento y Marea shelter has fallen dramatically, and migrants said there were about 160 still remaining in the warehouse as of Friday. The standoff continued into the early evening.
The migrants were offered transportation to El Barretal but it was unclear whether any had taken up the offer as of late Friday afternoon. An evangelical pastor, Alberto Rivera, also said he could accommodate about 50 migrants at Agape AC, a community center he runs near Playas de Tijuana.
Early in the day, the scene inside the shelter grew tense, as Federal Police with loudspeakers urged the migrants to move. A man burst into tears following an argument with a woman. Residents shouted in protest when authorities blocked a food delivery, then cheered when they backed down.
But as the hours passed, police blocked entry into the shelter.
The dispute was closely watched by both Mexican and international journalists. Also present was a group of more than a dozen English-speaking activists, many in their 20s, who would not identify themselves and pulled up bandannas to hide their faces.
News photographers on Friday said that several of the activists had also been present during a confrontation early New Year’s Day by the border fence that involved some 150 migrants.
The activists were organizing the Central Americans, and passing out kits to combat the effects of tear gas fired by U.S. authorities, the photographers said,.
Juan Moran, the Mexican Federal Police commander negotiating with the migrants, said a woman was removed from the shelter after she was passing out a flyer from the group known as BAMN, or By Any Means Necessary. The group has been encouraging migrants to march to the border.
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