Migrants aboard Mexico cargo trains stranded miles from U.S. border

VILLA AHUMADA/PIEDRAS NEGRAS (Reuters) – Migrants were stranded in Mexico on Friday miles from the U.S. border after the freight train they were traveling on top of abruptly stopped, amid the ongoing suspension of dozens of northbound trains over fears around migrant safety.

Hundreds of migrants were seen by a Reuters witness aboard a stationary train in a desert-like area near Villa Ahumada, some 123 km (76.43 miles) from the border town of Ciudad Juarez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

“They’re treating us like animals,” said Sasha Pacheco, who was on the stationary train, surrounded by her family including an infant.

“We’re in a desert, there’s only one tree… we’re just an hour (from our destination), but it would take a day walking with a baby.

“Why would they take us if they’re going to do this to us?” she asked, adding that there were no options to get buses or taxis from their current spot.

Sixty northbound cargo trains run by Mexico’s Ferromex were stopped last week, after about half a dozen migrants suffered death or injury. The company later said it restarted some routes where there was no known “heightened risk.”

Banners on the side of the train stopped in Villa Ahumada read, “Thank you Ferromex,” put up by migrants who had been initially grateful that the trains had begun the journey.

Grupo Mexico, which owns Ferromex, could not immediately be reached about the sudden train stoppage with migrants aboard near Villa Ahumada.

Earlier in the day, a spokesperson said they had no additional updates to share about the exact number of trains still stopped.

“Concentrations of migrants continue to be monitored, and trains are moved, ensuring continuity of traffic, but avoiding high risks for people and for operations,” they said.

Venezuelan migrant Marlon Vera, who’d been traveling for two months, told Reuters that the train he was traveling on had stopped for several days before being halted once again near Villa Ahumada.

“We’re here… without food, water, facing the cold, the heat,” he said.

The stoppage of trains in the past week has caused around $1 billion worth of goods to be stuck at the border.

Meanwhile, further east, in the border city of Piedras Negras that sits opposite Eagle Pass, Texas, Venezuelan migrant Jose Julian said on Friday he had similarly been stranded while traveling aboard the cargo trains.

He said he had climbed aboard a freight train along with some 2,000 other migrants in Monterrey several days ago, but somewhere past Torreon, the train stopped.

“They left us in the middle of the desert,” he said, speaking on the banks of the Rio Grande river. “They didn’t care that there were children.”

He said it took 10 hours on foot to reach the next town, and in total three days to make it to the border.

For years, migrants trying to reach the United States have crisscrossed Mexico on cargo trains. Collectively, such trains have become known as “La Bestia,” (The Beast), for the risks riding via rail represented.

(Reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez in Villa Ahumada and Daniel Becerril in Piedras Negras, Additional reporting by Isabel Woodford and Kylie Madry in Mexico City, Writing by Isabel Woodford, Editing by Valentine Hilaire and Michael Perry)