Migrants on a Tijuana sidewalk Migrants in Tijuana. zeta tijuana/Jorge Dueñes

Wave of migrants overwhelms Tijuana

Many are from Africa and seek refugee status in the U.S.

A small-scale migratory crisis is developing on the Tijuana-San Diego border, catching the governments of Mexico and the United States by surprise as the movement of Mexican and international migrants alike seems to be growing once again.

The two last weeks have seen over 1,000 migrants from Mexico and abroad arrive in Tijuana, all vying for the much-coveted refugee status in the United States.

Once in the U.S. migrants tend to cluster by family and nationality. The successful experience of a single refugee is soon broadcast via social media, attracting more and more people to try the proven geopolitical routes, all with their eyes set on the American Dream.

While the Mexican migrants remain the most numerous at 60%, the number of people from African countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Congo is increasing. Many were attracted to Brazil during its economic boom but after its economy began to go south immigrants wondering where to go next found it easier to pursue refugee status from the United states than to return to their countries of origin.

Also among the migrants are people from Haiti, in dire straits since an earthquake hit the Caribbean nation in 2010, explained Guillermo Alonso Meneses, a researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte.

The influx of international migrants also include citizens of Cuba, Ukraine, Iraq, Bhutan and Myanmar, all of whom are traveling via South American countries such as Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia.

In Tijuana, shelters and food kitchens that look after migrants have been overwhelmed by the sudden rise in the numbers.

A Catholic shelter-food kitchen has seen 361 men, most from African countries and Haiti, in just 10 days. It now houses over 1,000 people, and is receiving more than 50 every day.

A temporary shelter for women and children has had to increase its capacity from 30 people to over 130. The majority of its migrant residents are now foreign instead of national.

Four other Tijuana refugee centers have reportedly received over 500 migrants each in the last few days, prompting their management to demand that governments create a long-term plan.

Many are not so fortunate and, without any other option, camp on the sidewalks outside the National Immigration Institute (INM), waiting for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to approve their refugee requests.

Due to poor conditions, gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases are spreading among infants.

The INM’s Beta Team is continually shuttling people from the street camps to shelters, and taking between 50 and 100 people each day to the border where they are turned over to American immigration authorities.

The president of the Tijuana Migrant Care Council, Carlos Mora, believes that an information campaign is necessary at Mexico’s southern border to let migrants know of the low probability of obtaining refugee status.

For his part, Guillermo Meneses thinks the government of Mexico should implement support policies for the social organizations that care for migrants.

“The great problem in Mexico, and particularly in Tijuana, is that the care of migrants has been delegated to non-governmental organizations or church-affiliated groups. For decades, this task has been little better than improvised,” he said, warning that the United States could modify its immigration policy at any time.

Source: Zeta Tijuana (sp)

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