Mexico all but empties migrant shelters under coronavirus

MEXICO CITY, April 26 (Reuters) - Mexico has almost entirely cleared out its migrant shelters over the past five weeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, returning most of the occupants to their countries of origin, official data showed on Sunday.

In a statement, the National Migration Institute (INM) said that in order to comply with health and safety guidelines, since March 21 it had been removing migrants from Mexico's 65 migrant facilities, which were harboring 3,759 people last month.

In the intervening weeks, Mexico has returned 3,653 migrants to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador by road and air with the result that only 106 people remain in the shelters, it said.

Mexico's migrant shelters have a total capacity of 8,524 spaces, the INM said.

Among those who remained were migrants awaiting the outcome of asylum requests or judicial hearings, and others who had expressly sought permission to stay, a migration official said.

The vast majority of those sent back were migrants detained by authorities because they were in Mexico illegally, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Some no longer wished to stay in shelters due to the risk of coronavirus infection, the official added.

Most of the migrants passing through Mexico to reach the U.S. border are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

More than 80 Guatemalan migrants deported to their homeland from the United States have tested positive for coronavirus. (Reporting by Dave Graham and Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Editing by Daniel Wallis)