The military coup in Honduras is providing an unexpected test of Mexico’s immigration and refugee policies. On Friday, July 3, dozens of Honduran nationals arrived at a church-run migrant shelter in the southern state of Oaxaca seeking refugee status because of the political situation in their country.

Honduran migrants in Nuevo Laredo.
Photo: Laura Carlsen.

Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, spokesman for the Mexican Episcopal Conference, said a group of Hondurans sought assistance at the House of Mercy in Ciudad Ixtepec on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The migrant advocate said the bishops’ organization will contact the National Migration Institute to request refugee status for the Hondurans under international law.

"Migrants from a country in a state of war should not be denied refugee status," Solalinde declared.

The Honduran political crisis could aggravate an already conflictive situation in Mexico’s southern border region. Despite the international economic crisis, thousands of Central Americans and other Latin migrants continue to cross the country’s southern border en route to the United States. Along the way, migrants are a favorite target of corrupt Mexican officials and bands of organized criminals.

A report from Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) last month documented the kidnappings in Mexico of nearly 10,000 Latin American migrants, mainly from Central America, from September 2008 to February 2009. At least 157 women were among the victims; two women were murdered and others raped, according to the CNDH.

In the latest case to hit the national press, the Mexican Army and law enforcement officials from Tabasco and Chiapas states detained eight alleged kidnappers. A Honduran national, Francisco Handall Polanco, was among the group of alleged Zetas gang members arrested. Accused of holding 51 migrants against their will at a ranch in Tabasco, the group reportedly demanded ransoms reaching $5,000 from family members in return for releasing loved ones.

Once in the hands of authorities, migrants from Honduras and other nations are usually quickly deported. Emilio Chavez, director of the pro-migrant Sin Fronteras organization, charged that Mexico maintains a "double standard" when it comes to migrant issues. While pressuring the United States to improve its treatment of Mexican migrants, Mexico fails to protect Central Americans within its own borders, Chavez contended.

If the Honduran crisis drags on, Mexico could see greater than expected numbers of migrants on its southern border. The Mexican Episcopal Conference’s Solalinde said more Hondurans are reportedly on their way to Oaxaca.

Identified only as "Janet," an 18-year-old Honduran already in Ciudad Ixtepec described the situation in her country as grim. "Schools are closed and the hospitals have no medicine," she said, adding that electricity and propane gas shortages were also a problem.