Kidnapping and escape of 95 Ecuadorian migrants in Chiapas: ‘If you continue informing we will return them in bags’

The organization 1800 Migrante claims that a police raid caused the migrants to flee and regain their freedom. The criminal group tried to get money from the families of the people being held

Secuestro de migrantes en Chiapas
Soldiers, National Guard agents, Inami and state police during a search operation, early this Friday.Juan Manuel Blanco (EFE)
Jorge Vaquero Simancas

The law firm 1800 Migrante denounced on Thursday the kidnapping of 95 Ecuadorians near Tapachula, a Mexican city on the border with Guatemala. Criminals seized the buses on Wednesday in which the migrants wanted to continue their journey north to the United States. Their course changed to a house in Puerto Chiapas, where the kidnappers demanded ransoms from the Ecuadorians’ families. One of them managed to contact William Murillo, spokesman for the legal organization, who made the case public and then received threats for it. “If you continue informing we will return them in bags,” the lawyer said he was told. The detainees managed to flee last Thursday night before a raid that the captors found out about in time.

The odyssey of the nearly one hundred Ecuadorian migrants began Wednesday afternoon on the outskirts of Tapachula. “I contacted the family [of the kidnapped boy] a few minutes ago and they tell me it was not violent. They were taken to a warehouse in the buses that were transporting them from the border with Guatemala,” Murillo explains.

One of the migrants, upon realizing that he was kidnapped, managed to pass his location to 1800 Migrante, based in the United States. “I automatically contacted the Ecuadorian consular body in New York. They coordinated the information to pass this data to the consular offices in Mexico,” explains the lawyer. The consul general of the South American country then decided to contact the Chiapas Prosecutor’s Office to organize an operation in the house where the migrants were kidnapped.

State police and National Guard patrols during the search in Tapachula, this March 22 at dawn.
State police and National Guard patrols during the search in Tapachula, this March 22 at dawn.Damián Sánchez Jesús (Cuartoscuro)

Upon arriving Thursday night at the warehouse in Puerto Chiapas, federal, state and municipal agents found no one, according to a statement from the Chiapas Attorney General’s Office. Activist and director of the Center for Human Dignification, Luis Rey Villagrán, accompanied the raid and spoke with locals. “The neighbors say that there had been a great movement for more than two hours and they noticed that many people ran out of the place where they were supposedly being held,” the activist reports. Murillo has also confirmed with one of the relatives of the kidnapped that the migrants fled. “There was no one there because the kidnappers ran away and said ‘the migra is coming’. Everyone ran away and that’s why they didn’t find anyone. It seems that the operation was leaked,” explains the lawyer. The National Guard and other police forces deployed a search operation of which there is no news so far.

During the time the migrants were held, the criminals tried to extort the families by demanding money for their release. According to Murillo, some of these people even paid the ransom. At the same time, the kidnappers tried to intimidate the lawyer for making the case public. “The kidnappers called me to threaten me, to tell me not to interfere. That if I did anything they would hand them over to us in plastic bags”, explains the lawyer. He also denounces the change in the human trafficking scheme that migrants suffer from organized crime in Chiapas, a region that is in dispute between the Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generación cartels. “The traditional coyoteros are being displaced by narco-coyoteros who use high caliber weapons, killing without mercy,” he adds.

Soldiers and agents of the National Guard, this Friday during the search.
Soldiers and agents of the National Guard, this Friday during the search.Damián Sánchez Jesús (Cuartoscuro)

The Ecuadorian lawyer has confirmed to EL PAÍS that 19 Ecuadorian migrants are in custody in the offices of the National Migration Institute (INM) in Tapachula. Moreover, Rey Villagrán indicates that the immigration authorities detained some thirty migrants from that country in the sweep following the operation.

The Government of Ecuador has not been informed by any Mexican authority so far, according to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gabriela Sommerfeld. “Given the news of the alleged kidnapping of 95 Ecuadorian citizens in Mexico, the Mexican authorities have been contacted and there is no official information,” she maintained, reports Carolina Mella.

Both the activist and the lawyer agree that the opacity of the institutions regarding the case is a problem that only harms the migrants. “The escape, which was also confirmed to us by the boy who contacted us, is something that the authorities do not want to say. We are surprised by this complicit attitude of the authorities,” Murillo denounces. “It is the competence of the INM, and neither they nor the Attorney General’s Office have given an official position on the facts. For us, they are putting up a curtain of opacity that once again puts migrants and those of us who are working on the issue at risk,” explains activist Rey Villarán.

The law firm 1800 Migrante was the first to report on February 17 an armed attack against a group of migrants near the town of Saric, Sonora, just 80 kilometers from the U.S. border. Thanks to the harrowing accounts of witnesses to the attack, the State Prosecutor’s Office was forced to come forward with explanations, in a country where crimes often go unpunished. They admitted the murder of Jonzi, a four-year-old Ecuadorian boy, and two women from Peru and Ecuador. The Attorney General’s Office never updated this information, despite the fact that 1800 Migrante reported days later the death of another Honduran migrant. “They say and maintain that there are three dead and we have even published the photo and the name of the fourth dead,” explains Murillo. So far, in the southern border, the authorities have not made any statement about the kidnapping and release of the 95 Ecuadorians.

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