Several thousand Central American migrants are stuck in a dirty, cramped sports facility in Tijuana under conditions that are beginning to mirror refugee camps in Afghanistan.
Reuters reports that in the roughly three weeks since the migrants have been there — many of them families with young children — they have been hit with respiratory illnesses, chicken pox, and lice.
The migrants are stuck there while the Trump administration and the new incoming government in Mexico (which will take office on Saturday) work out a deal that will keep the Central Americans in Mexico while the U.S. slowly processes their asylum applications.
President Donald Trump will not allow the migrants to enter the U.S. and then apply for asylum, as permitted by federal law. Meanwhile, Mexican border towns are not equipped to handle the large number of people needing food, shelter, hygiene facilities, and, increasingly, medical care.
The conditions described in the sports complex — which, as of Monday night, housed 5,800 people — are distressing familiar to anyone paying attention to the plight of refugees stuck in camps on the outskirts of Kabul or Erbil, Iraq.
An Amnesty International report released Monday painted a dire picture. Researcher Brian Griffey told ThinkProgress that when he was in Mexico last week, the sports facility was already too crowded and cold.
“There was not adequate food, water, or health services for the people staying there,” said Griffey.
“You could hear people all over the place coughing, with respiratory illnesses,” he said. Migrants living in such conditions and for long periods of uncertainty, are also vulnerable to psychological distress. Although they are just a few miles from the U.S., they are a million miles away from getting any kind of mental health care right now.
“People are lucky to get two meals a day this week … they were getting one meal a day when we were visiting. Psych and social support is very, very far from reach for these people right now,” he said. “They just don’t have the adequate funding to do so on the municipal level right now.”
Local authorities, along with the UN Refugee Agency, have also been straining to meet the needs of those arriving.
Tijuana’s mayor, Juan Manuel Gastelum, said earlier this week that space and resources are running out, wondering how the city would continue to look after the growing number of migrants arriving on a daily basis. He has struck an anti-migrant tone in the past, and is asking for federal support to house and feed those arriving.
Having completed a nearly 3,000-mile trek to the U.S. border, “Many have been living in tents made from trash bags or patches of cold floor walled off with backpacks and blankets, enduring the harsh elements and lack of privacy,” Reuters reported. “[M]en washed using buckets in a shower area beside a line of reeking portable toilets and giant mud puddles. Women, wary of uninvited gazes, bathed with clothes on.”
There is are notable difference in the situation between the migrants in Mexico and those in war-torn places. For one thing, people at the U.S.-Mexico border are there for a variety of reasons, including being driven out by conflict, much like the internally displaced in camps in places like Iraq.
Also, in the case of the Honduran, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan migrants, they are right at the U.S.’s door, legally seeking their right to asylum. Despite this, they are kept in deplorable conditions for solely political reasons. President Trump made the migrant caravan a huge issue in the lead up to the midterms, sending thousands of troops to the border to meet what he classified as an “invasion.”
But the migrants, who are comprised of unarmed people fleeing vicious narco cartels, daily gang violence, and crushing poverty in their home countries, have not proven to be a security threat — not to the U.S., and not to Mexico.
With the exception of a number of migrants who rushed the border wall on Sunday night (and were met with tear gas from U.S. border security, and were later deported by Mexico), the migrants are mostly just tired, scared, and desperate.
Griffey added that the migrants are incredibly vulnerable to being bribed and extorted by local authorities, who threaten deportation if they don’t pay up.
They are essentially at the mercy of whatever deal the Trump administration hammers out with the new Mexican administration. As it stands, Griffey said that at the behest of U.S. authorities, Mexico has been screening migrants, and those lacking legal status in Mexico (which, of course, are many) are being deported.