Migrants protest after hundreds escape from Mexican detention center

Tuxtla Gutiérrez (Mexico) (AFP) - Central American migrants at a detention center in southern Mexico protested against their captivity on Friday, a day after an escape involving around 1,300 mostly Cuban inmates.

Dozens of migrants shouted on Friday morning: "We want to go," and "we're hungry" at the facility in Tapachula, in the southern state of Chiapas.

At dinner time on Thursday, some 1,300 migrants escaped after threatening to set fire to the detention center to protest against overcrowding, witnesses said.

"There was a large-scale unauthorized exit of people housed in the migratory station," the National Institute of Migration (INM) said in a statement.

It said 700 returned soon after leaving, but Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador confirmed on Friday morning that around 500 others were unaccounted for.

They had knocked down railings at the center in order to escape, but those had been repaired on Friday, AFP journalists at the scene saw.

Since October, tens thousands of Central Americans and Cubans have traversed Mexico in caravans in the hope of reaching the United States.

The migrants say they are fleeing poverty and gang violence.

The Tapachula center was built to accommodate 900 people, but residents say it sometimes holds as many as 3,000.

"We have many there... we are very tight, we sleep on the floor," said one Cuban detainee.

It is the third time since October that migrants at Tapachula have rioted against conditions.

"The migrants say that they (authorities) don't give them food," fruit vendor Carlos Alcantara, who works nearby, told AFP.

US President Donald Trump says the migrants are a threat to US national security and has demanded that Mexico detain them and send them home.

Lopez Obrador announced a plan last week to restrict migrants to Mexico's south -- keeping them away from the US border -- but denied it was a means to placate Washington.