A priest in Mexico has been kidnapped while protecting Cuban migrants from an attempted abduction ifrom a migrant shelter in the north-east of the country.
Father Aarón Méndez Ruiz, director of the Casa del Migrante AMAR in Nuevo Laredo city, Tamaulipas state, was taken on August 3 when members of an organised criminal group turned up to kidnap migrants from the shelter to hold them for ransom, reports Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Nuevo Laredo is situated on the US-Mexico border and was recently incorporated into the 'Remain in Mexico' programme requiring migrants to stay in Mexico while they await the outcome of immigration applications to the US.
Local reports say that gangs have increasingly turned to abductions as an easy way of making money because families tend to pay the ransoms quickly.
Shelter worker Erbin Ortiz told Spanish-language news agency Agencia EFE that the priest was "100% committed" to the shelter and had blocked the attempt to kidnap Cubans staying there.
He said that although the federal authorities had been notified, no ransom demand had been made for his release and that there had been no communication with Father Ruiz since his abduction.
Ortiz said that people staying in the shelter were afraid of more attempted abductions.
CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: "We are deeply concerned for the wellbeing of Father Méndez Ruiz and for the welfare of migrants residing at the Casa del Migrante AMAR migrant shelter.
"We urge the Mexican government to ensure security for civilian populations in areas with a strong influence of criminal groups, and to develop strategies to support religious leaders and other civil society actors who are under threat.
"CSW also calls for a full investigation into the enforced disappearance of Father Méndez Ruiz and the prosecution of those responsible."
Violence against members of the clergy has spiralled in Mexico in recent years. In 2018, 10 religious leaders were killed, making it the most dangerous country in the world for Catholic priests for the tenth year in a row.
CSW blamed the increase in attacks on church leaders on a culture of impunity, saying that a lack of proper investigation meant that the perpetrators are not being brought to justice.
Mr Thomas added: "We urge the international community to engage with the Mexican government on these matters and to recognise the role that many religious leaders play, not only as leaders of their churches, but also as voices for peace, justice and integrity, and as human rights defenders."