Frustration With App May Be Behind Migrant Tent Fires

Fires were set in Mexican camp of 2K people
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 22, 2023 12:08 PM CDT
Frustration With App May Be Behind Migrant Tent Fires
People standing on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, watch others cross the river into the US on Friday.   (AP Photo/Valerie Gonzalez)

About two dozen makeshift tents were set ablaze and destroyed at a migrant camp across the border from Texas this week, witnesses said Friday, a sign of the extreme risk that comes with being stuck in Mexico as the Biden administration increasingly relies on that country to host people fleeing poverty and violence. The fires were set Wednesday and Thursday at the sprawling camp of about 2,000 people, most of them from Venezuela, Haiti, and Mexico, in Matamoros, a city near Brownsville, Texas. An advocate for migrants said they had been doused with gasoline, the AP reports. It was not immediately known who was to blame in torching the tents.

Cartel-backed gangs often draw suspicion in border attacks because of their penchant for preying on migrants and demanding money for passage through their territory. But a government official suggested the fires could have been set by a group of migrants frustrated over their long wait in Matamoros to cross the border. "The people fled as their tents were burned," said Gladys Cañas, who runs the group Ayudandoles A Triunfar. "What they’re saying as part of their testimony is that they were told to leave from there." There were no reports of deaths or significant injuries. But about 25 rudimentary shelters made up of plastic, tarps, branches, and other materials were torched in a sparsely populated part of the camp.

Many who lived there also apparently lost clothing, documents and whatever other modest belongings may have been left inside. A Mexican woman staying at the camp, said Friday she saw migrants from Venezuela screaming during the previous day's blaze. "They had their children with them and a few other things they had a chance to get," she said. She spoke on the condition that her last name not be published due to fears for her safety. Gangs recently threatened migrants who were wading across the river border illegally, as well as their guides, she said, but the crossings had continued. Criminal groups often prey upon migrants in the area and demand money in return for permission to pass through their territory.

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However, Juan José Rodríguez, director of the Tamaulipas Institute for Migrants, a state agency coordinating with Mexico's federal government, said he had no information that a gang was responsible for the fires. Rodríguez attributed them to a group of migrants and said some 10 tents that had already been abandoned were burned, per the AP. He added that they apparently set the fires to express frustration with a US government mobile app that assigns turns for people to show up at the border and claim asylum. Migrants have been applying for 740 slots made available daily on the glitch-plagued app, CBPOne, which allows them to enter the US legally at an official crossing.

(More US-Mexico border stories.)

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