Migrants and the displaced fill shelters in Tijuana; the government does not address crisis – by Inés García Ramos (Semanario Zeta)

~This story was originally published by Zeta on September 5, 2016 ~

While migrant shelters are at double their capacity, the Ministry of Finance withholding a special fund of 300 million pesos approved since 2015. Meanwhile, the state government fails to address a request to open an additional shelter to complement the ones civil groups already operate. The situation becomes more difficult for Mexicans displaced by violence, with only 2 percent likely to gain political asylum in the United States

Entire families wait on the street. Photo: Jorge Dueñes

Entire families wait on the street. Photo: Jorge Dueñes

The destination is north. That is why more than five thousand Haitian and African migrants have traveled to the Tijuana border over the last three months and every day almost 50 Mexicans arrive seeking political asylum in the United States.

These numbers have caused shelters to reach their maximum capacity, and hundreds of migrants sleep on the streets as a result of the lack of municipal and state government-sponsored programs to provide them assistance.

Both levels of government argue there is a lack of public resources to provide assistance to both intercontinental migrants and those who are internally displaced.

But there are resources. The federal spending budget for fiscal year 2016, published on November 27, 2015, includes an appropriation of 300 million pesos for the “Migrant Support Fund.” It is part of the Metropolitan Fund, which in turn comes from the Projects for Regional Development.

However, as of August 31, 2016, the Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP) has not agreed to nor published the rules of operation for this fund in order for the country’s civil society organizations to request the support.

Federal Congressman Max García explaines the situation. The Committee on Northern Border Affairs of the Mexican House of Representatives, to which he belongs, requested that the undersecretary of expenditures of the SHCP explain the reason for not releasing the funds.

“There is a proposal for the budget of 2017, that these resources be eliminated, so they want to cut them, but we requested that they seek out the way to define the operating rules and establish how the groups will access the resources, ” explained García.

It is that simple and that complicated.  Four months before the end of the year, the SHCP has not defined the operational manual for those 300 million pesos and therefore, have not allowed civil associations to access the fund.

“The amount is approved in the budget, so the money must be there. We demand to have the resources that were collected through a fiscal reform that has hurt the entire country and the border specifically,” said the legislator.

The migratory flow is rising. Photo: Jorge Dueñes.

The migratory flow is rising. Photo: Jorge Dueñes.

The lack of resources is not the only complication for the thousands of migrants who have arrived to the border. Another problem is misinformation spread in the states where people are fleeing violence about the possibilities for obtaining political asylum.

One of the observations that the Coalition for the Defense of Migrants and American Friends Service Committee made on the issue of forced Mexican migration is how “imperative it is to develop an information campaign in communities where violence occurs in great magnitude, on the conditions that exist in border cities for their arrival, the asylum process, and the slim chances there are of having it granted.”

Faced with almost no chance of obtaining political asylum, the groups highlight the urgency of creating a special fund for the employment of those who did not receive asylum in the United States.

For these civil organizations, “so far, we know of no serious actions by governments at any level to support this displaced population. The authorities do not show the necessary interest nor do they cooperate sufficiently or adequately with civil organizations to provide protection and ensure the rights of those displaced by violence in Mexico.”

More migrants don’t fit in the shelters
At the Instituto Madre Asunta, 108 women and children sleep, eat, bathe and spend their days there, despite its maximum capacity of 45 spaces.  “We have exceeded the capacity that we can attend to, but it is inhumane to sleep on the street, they beg us to let them in, but the house can’t hold anymore,” says social worker Mary Galvan.

The support received from the government lasted only a month. When migration flows increased in May, they received 100 personal aid packages from the state government and 100 thousand pesos [$5,099 US dollars] from the municipal government.

And it would appear that government actions have been insufficient. In June, the city administration announced the authorization of a shelter in the Castillo neighborhood. Although the property is owned by the Salesian Project, the municipal government promised to activate it.

However, it was closed because there were no bathrooms or a kitchen. It was not functional.

“One of the requests that the organizations have made is that the state or municipal government open an emergency shelter,” declared the director of the Instituto Madre Asunta.

For Mary Galvan, the government’s refusal is a strategy to discourage migration, but she warns, “I don’t think it works because people keep arriving.”

When questioned about this, Carlos Mora Alvarez, director of the State Council for Migrant Assistance, said that on Monday, September 5, they will hold a working session with civil organizations operating these shelters “to evaluate if they feel they have been surpassed [by the numbers], if an official shelter is needed or not, either administered by the municipal or state government or by both.”

The question is answered simply by visiting the main shelters in the city, the sidewalks in front of the Instituto Madre Asunta, the Casa del Migrante, the Salvation Army, and Father Salesian’s Breakfast Hall, men, women and families wait for a space to enter.

They sleep on the street, ask for help from those close by, and beg for a space inside or money to rent a room.

Interviewed about this, Father Patrick Murphy, director of the Casa del Migrante, said that this shelter does not have room for more people. Each day they receive 25 repatriated migrants and the 150 spaces they have are currently occupied. They have also received information from researchers and activists in the south of the country telling them that more Haitians are en route to Tijuana.

The priest explained that as of August 31, the earliest date to present a claim for political asylum is September 12.

“The government is not giving anything extra, it only gives the normal level of support. They have to do something else because this challenge is everyone’s, not just for civil associations. We do not need to be applauded for our work, we need action,” he said.

From the states of Guerrero and Michoacan, more than 70 percent of those displaced by violence
Since 2013, civil associations and academics noticed a shift in the composition of migrants arriving in Tijuana. The new arrivals were migrants who had been displaced by violence in their homes, not people in search of work or better living conditions.

More than 5 thousand foreigners have arrived to Tijuana in the last 4 months. Photo: Jorge Dueñes.

More than 5 thousand foreigners have arrived to Tijuana in the last 4 months. Photo: Jorge Dueñes.

That was the context for the report by the Coalition for Defense of Migrants and the American Friends Service Committee titled “Lives in Uncertainty: Mexico’s Forced Migration to the Northern Border of Mexico; What about our solidarity?,” which is based on information from more than one thousand cases.

It includes 891 cases of migrants who arrived to the Instituto Madre Asunta between January 2013 and March 2016. It also includes 215 migrants who responded to a standardized questionnaire between April 1 and May 18, 2016, and 40 additional interviews with displaced migrants, representatives of civil organizations and public servants in Baja California, Sonora and Tamaulipas.

“The phenomenon of forced migration is not new, but it is for our city,” said Dr. Jose Moreno Mena, president of the Coalition for the Defense of Migrants, who presented the report on August 31 at the Instituto Madre Asunta.

The results of the study indicate that 92 percent of the displaced population said they had come to Tijuana to cross into the United States, although only seven out of ten people said they had heard or had information about the political asylum option.

Of these, 52 percent said they already had filed a claim for asylum, of which 65.7 received a denial. Only 2 percent said they had been given the opportunity to file a claim.

“The high levels of rejection of asylum claims for displaced Mexicans by the United States, are a reflection of the level of misinformation this population arrives with to border areas about filing claims for asylum with the US government,” says the report.

While 79 percent of respondents are women, as the shelter welcomes women and their children, 45.6 percent of the sample consists of minors and adults aged 60 years and older.

Ninty-four percent of the women are mothers and one-third have four to six children, so the study concludes that leaving their places of origin was “a protective measure to keep the family away from an environment where violence and organized criminal gangs rule.”

Of those surveyed, 41.5 percent lived in Michoacan and 33.3 percent lived in Guerrero, and the rest are from towns of neighboring states. It is no coincidence that these entities occupy the first and eighth places in terms of rates of homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Thus, 73 percent of registered persons stated that the reason for their displacement was violence in their place of residence.

In 18 percent of cases, they or close relatives were victims of a crime or an act of violence, and 12.6 percent made reference, in particular, to the constant confrontation between criminal gangs.

In the words of Fernando Becerra, coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee’s Mexico Program, “although the right to migrate is a human right, the right not to migrate because of violence or forcibly displacement by other circumstances is fundamental.”

The deceptions of political asylum
The study also reports that some of the displaced are “deceived by unscrupulous people or trafficking networks that are profiting from their desperation.” Social organizations suspect that those who profit on smuggling routes are providing misleading information, selling political asylum as a new means of entry into the United States.

Photo: Jorge Dueñes.

Photo: Jorge Dueñes.

The report highlights “the need for Mexico to completely diagnose what is happening both in the states of expulsion and in the border states where the displaced population arrives.”

The organizations propose the need to create programs that provide protection, prevention and assistance to internally displaced by violence in border cities as well as the creation of a job bank, reintegrating the displaced to the health system and assisting with housing placements, as well as providing credits for generating small businesses.

Since only between 1 and 2 percent of Mexicans seeking political asylum receive it, Mary Galvan considers “it will be the information which will discourage Mexicans from requesting asylum when there is no right to it the United States.”

There is no set time for the political asylum process, it can take months to ten years, a period during which applicants are held in immigration detention centers or allowed to live with a family member while wearing an ankle bracelet with GPS.

That is why, the activist observes, once Mexicans who fail to qualify for asylum are deported back to Mexico, others who were displaced will understand the slim chances they have of receiving protection from the United States government.

Inés García Ramos reports for Semanario Zeta in Tijuana. This article was originally published under the title “Migrantes y desplazados llenan albergues en Tijuana, gobierno no atiende crisis” and is available at: http://zetatijuana.com/2016/09/05/migrantes-y-desplazados-llenan-albergues-en-tijuana-gobierno-no-atiende-crisis/

 Translator Pedro Rios is the director of the American Friends Service Committee U.S./Mexico Border Program and guest editor of TBI’s Freedom of Expression Project for the week of September 19-23, 2016.

About Michael Lettieri

Program Officer at the Trans-Border Institute

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