Mexico: tourists denounce arbitrary arrests | America – The latest news and information | DW

During their trip to Mexico, Esther and Timon wanted to enjoy the paradisiacal beaches, turquoise water, nature and visit the temples and pyramids of the Maya. They wanted to meet a friend from Austria and learn about the country’s rich gastronomy. But a random Mexican immigration policy thwarted their vacation plans. They are currently trying to avoid an impending arrest.

The young German tourist couple, who refused to give their surname, landed in Cancún on 7 February. At immigration control, they said they would stay in the country for two months and proved it with the return ticket for April 5. However, the official of the Mexican immigration authority INM only granted them eight days of residence. This was noted with a barely legible note on the admission ticket, a seven-by-five centimeter piece of paper. “The officer asked us why we wanted to stay for two months, after which we showed him our return ticket. He said ‘Perfect’ and wrote something on the immigration card. Then he returned it to us and very kindly said ‘Welcome to Mexico. ‘I had no idea it reduced the length of our stay, ”Timon told DW.

Timon’s immigration card with the immigration officer’s handwritten note at the bottom

The young couple believed they could legally stay in Mexico for far less than the “up to 180” days indicated as the maximum on the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, which allowed European tourists to visit the country. Easily granted rule. The joy of the holidays quickly faded when they were able to contact their friend Chris only after several days.

As a tourist in prison

The 30-year-old Austrian has been detained since February 5 at the Chetumal immigration center, on the border with Belize. While driving to Bacalar, a small resort town in the far southeast of Mexico, his bus was stopped at an immigration checkpoint. After checking all the identity documents of the passengers traveling, Chris was arrested for exceeding the length of stay granted to him at the time of entry.

The number of days allowed was also difficult to decipher on his entry card. Chris was only approved for 40 days and was arrested in Mexico on day 52. “It is their right to grant me as many days as they want and also arrest me if I exceed this limit. But they should clearly tell us the number of days and inform us when they will arrest us,” the young Austrian tells DW over the phone. Chris had his cellphone and personal belongings taken away. He was taken to a prison-like immigration facility in a van with barred windows. With him in custody were also people from Cuba, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, a couple from the United States and a German.

Mexico plane from Interjet, airport

Tourist cards with the maximum length of stay are issued in Mexico upon arrival at the airport

“You feel like a criminal. You were only allowed to make calls twice a week,” says Chris, who is still in Mexico. Thanks to the mediation of his he embassy, ​​he is free again and has 20 days to establish his status as a resident in Mexico. If the other side didn’t take off, you were just out of luck. “He didn’t know when he would get out of this facility again.” There were people who had been there for two months or even six months. “

During the week in detention, the Austrian shared a cell with Julian Pennant, a German amateur boxer who, after his release, detailed his case in an Instagram video that went viral.

Concern about increased arrests

The German Foreign Office (AA) has noted an unusual increase in arrests of travelers from Germany. This year alone, the German embassy in Mexico received 15 calls for help from German tourists detained in immigration detention centers, DW learned from diplomatic circles. Other EU countries are also affected. The AA has since updated its travel and safety tips for Mexico. “The Mexican authorities are currently checking immigration control very carefully if and for how long it is possible to confirm accommodation in the country and if a corresponding return flight ticket is available. The length of stay is therefore very precisely limited. on the registration form, often without the traveler’s knowledge, “the AA warns on its website from 21 January.

Migrant Police in Mexico

Mexico is a transit country for many migrants from Latin America to the United States

Carmina Gutiérrez, legal counsel for Mexico’s federal criminal defense agency in Cancún, told DW that this is a common practice among migrants. They would only be arrested and released if bribes were paid. “In the middle of the year they needed $ 1,500 for the release, now it is 2,500,” says the lawyer who specializes in the care of migrants. So far, however, this practice appears to have only been used to a limited extent with foreign tourists.

Of the dozen Western tourists DW interviewed, only two people claimed to have been victims of bribery attempts. The Mexican immigration authority INM has denied any allegations of extortion by its representatives to DW and stressed that the payment of a fine should not be confused with a bribe.

Between uncertainty and trust

After Esther and Timon discovered the fate of their friend Chris, they realized that their authorized stay was only eight days and contacted the German embassy. Despite not having been arrested under Mexican law if they voluntarily contacted immigration officials, the young couple panicked.

Esther and Tim |  Tourist maps in Mexico

A photo of carefree days. Meanwhile, Esther and Timon aren’t enjoying their vacation much anymore.

“We are very afraid that they will put us in an immigration detention center because we have already read about the conditions there. So we are careful, but we will not hide in the hotel either. You are constantly nervous and you do not enjoy your holiday all the more”, says Ester and Timon. But she is reassured by the fact that “our embassy already knows about our situation and it is hoped that it can get us released quickly if we are arrested”.

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