A group of asylum seekers camping out at the U.S.-Mexico border have started a hunger strike to protest Mexico’s efforts to block them from making their way into the U.S., Reuters has reported.
The protest group is part of a caravan of thousands of Central American asylum seekers who have been waiting for weeks in Mexican border town Tijuana to be able to process their asylum claims at the U.S. border.
With U.S. asylum officers only processing around 100 claims or less per day, asylum seekers have been warned that they could be stuck waiting in Tijuana for many more weeks, if not months, before their claims can be considered.
The majority of the group, which includes families with small children, has been forced to sleep outdoors in an open-air sports stadium or on mats in an overcrowded shelter since arriving in Tijuana, enduring wet and muddy conditions.
Mexican immigration authorities reportedly began transporting some of the asylum seekers to a new shelter on Thursday to lessen the strain, according to Reuters.
Still, asylum seekers say they are frustrated with Mexican police blocking them from accessing the U.S. border, with 22-year-old Honduran Gerson Madrid telling Reuters: “What the police are doing is unfair. The truth is we are fighting for our rights.”
“Why are (the police) treating us like this if we’re not causing them or the Mexican people any trouble?” asked Madrid, who began his journey to the U.S. in early October, with hopes of being able to make a living to provide for a young daughter he left behind in Honduras.
The hunger strike at the border comes just under a week after U.S. Border Patrol officers fired tear gas at caravan members after hundreds rushed the border.
Images and video of asylum seekers, including families with small children, racing away from tear gas at the border have prompted widespread outrage against the Trump administration, with the Mexican government itself calling for an investigation into the U.S.’s use of nonlethal weapons, including tear gas.
Mexican officials also reportedly saw a rise in the number of asylum seekers signing up to “self-deport” over fears for their safety after Sunday’s violence at the border, choosing to return to the home countries many fled over fears of violence and political and economic instability.
President Donald Trump has defended the decision to deploy the substance, initially claiming that it was a “very minor form” of tear gas, which was not accurate.
The president also questioned why parents with children would be “running up into an area where they know tear gas is forming” and went on to accuse asylum seekers, without any evidence, of being what he referred to as “grabbers,” or people who had stolen children in order to increase their chances of being granted asylum in the U.S.