FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 29th, 2018
Just after 3am on the morning of Saturday December 29, approximately 200 Mexican federal and municipal police in riot gear and armored vehicles, along with 5 grand coach buses, appeared outside of the warehouse shelter near the Benito Juarez Sports Stadium where hundreds of Indigenous and Central American refugees are sheltered in downtown Tijuana, Baja California.
Within the past three days, police have publicly threatened to raid the warehouse, destroy tents and relocate every refugee into El Barretal, a makeshift refugee camp resembling an open air prison, run by the federal government. Eyewitness testimonies from the refugees indicate the police had every intent of removing everyone from the shelter by force and putting them in the buses heading for El Barretal in those early hours of the morning.
After receiving multiple tips from people outside of the warehouse regarding the heavy presence of riot police surrounding the shelter, refugees took a voice vote to lock themselves down inside. Some of them physically chained themselves to door of the warehouse to keep it shut.
Hundreds of riot cops, buses and multiple armored trucks took up two full street blocks around the windowless warehouse. They waited silently, with their shields up in striking position, while a couple of police negotiators gathered in front of the locked warehouse doors. Refugee organizers from inside along with a legal support worker communicated with the federales by sliding a piece of paper through the bottom of the door. The refugees made 3 simple demands; do not raid the warehouse camp with women and children inside, allow for the refugees to remain there until at least January 24th, and a refusal to relocate to El Barretal. The head federales were unsuccessful in their efforts to get anyone from inside the warehouse to open the doors.
As the sun started to rise around 5:30 am, and various US citizens stood outside recording the scene, the cops suddenly dispersed. Organizers said the federales agreed to not raid the warehouse, at least until January 24th, but did not respond to the other demand to stop permanently relocating them. The coach buses left empty and riot cops loaded back into their armored trucks before leaving the scene. Then, just before 6am, the warehouse door opened with ten young men coming out to enter a white van that they voluntarily agreed to ride in to El Barretal. Later that morning, a handful from that group of ten paid out of pocket bus fares to return to the Benito Juarez warehouse shelter, reporting that El Barretal was an extremely dangerous and overcrowded.
At 6am, Televisa and other local journalists arrived to the scene to talk to the few remaining municipal cops and refugees that were now pouring out for their morning social gatherings. Some recorded interviews while others filmed the breakfast serving routine near the kitchen.
Following the incident, refugees expressed particular concern about a Mexican national named Hector Gutierrez, claimed to work for a Baja California Senator, who has been causing mayhem within the warehouse. This morning he was asked to permanently leave the warehouse twice. This provocateur is not a refugee but claims to speak for them when receiving donations, collaborates with the police and overall disrupts any plans to make the space more liveable.
The rest of the morning remained calm as women, children and men huddled closely in the street to talk about what the future holds.