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Truck crash kills more than 50 migrants in southern Mexico

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As many as 55 migrants have died in southern Mexico after a cargo truck lost control and crashed, ejecting people from its trailer and onto the road. Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, spoke about the accident earlier today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

CORNISH: "Embrace to all the family members of the victims," he said. Pope Francis also sent his condolences. The tragic crash has brought renewed focus to Mexico's southern border and the thousands of migrants there hoping to reach the U.S. border. We're joined now by NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City.

Carrie, what more have you learned about this accident?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Well, it appears that the truck driver was driving at high speeds and rounded this corner on a highway and just smashed into the base of an overhead pedestrian bridge and just lost control of the truck. It flipped. And parts of it were just shredded. More than 150 migrants were packed in the trailer, and bodies were just thrown all over the place. The scene of the accident was just horrific. There were bodies still in the trailer, which was shredded, and bodies on the highway. Authorities now say that nearly all of the migrants were from Guatemala and some from Honduras.

CORNISH: How common is it for migrants to be traveling through Mexico this way, in the back of a trailer like this?

KAHN: Well, we've seen that - this before, but we've seen it more recently now that smuggling organizations, you know, they're trying to get migrants through Mexico quickly and to the U.S. borders. Authorities say that this group had crossed not long ago from Mexico - from Guatemala into Mexico and were held in a safe house in the southern state of Chiapas and yesterday packed into that trailer headed north. So they really didn't get very far before the accident.

In October, officials stopped a convoy of six of these large trucks packed with more than 600 migrants, and most were from Central America. But there were people from all over the world in those trailers, Audie. They were from Ghana and even Bangladesh. Mexican authorities have been cracking down on bus companies selling tickets to migrants without visas and also finding, like, taxi drivers or others who are just giving migrants rides along the road. And they've also been detaining people trying to walk northward in big caravans, so lately we've seen more migrants stuffed into these trailers and hauled just like cattle to points north.

CORNISH: You mentioned people coming from way beyond Central America, right? - Ghana, Bangladesh. What is it about this border crossing that's drawing people?

KAHN: Well, first of all, it's just a well-worn path through Central America to southern Mexico. Geographically, you just have to cross there to get north. And in many spots, migrants cross just a small river. There's no fence or anything. And Mexico does not consistently have or put the resources to guard the border, so there's a lot of very open space. And as pandemic restrictions have eased in other countries, we're seeing more and more people coming through here. In the last 12 months prior to October, the U.S. border officials made 1.7 million apprehensions. Some of those maybe have been repeat crossers, but that's a record number of attempts. So it just tells you how many people are coming through this border.

Mexico has been under pressure from the U.S. to stop people before they even get a chance to go north, and they maintain this sort of policy of containment in southern Mexico. They don't let migrants or - try to keep migrants in the southern state of Chiapas and not leave, but people have become increasingly frustrated here - there. There are no jobs. They sleep in the streets. And right now there are thousands of Haitian migrants camping in a stadium in fetid conditions, just hoping to get humanitarian visas so they can travel through Mexico.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

KAHN: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.