One of the key components of the Migration Peace Program in the Casa is called Hospedaje Solidario, or Solidarity Lodging. It was created to house the refugees fleeing the violence of the Guatemalan Civil War in the 1970s. Over the decades the demographics of the guests that stay in the Casa through this program has shifted from predominately Latin American refugees to include, more recently, people from the Middle East and Africa. Many of the recent waves of refugees are escaping violence spurred by religious and political causes, (and an increasing number of LGBTQ people also escaping persecution). Mexico, contrary to what one might think, has one of the most favorable policies in the world toward refugees. In response to situations such as the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and religious violence in Nigeria, Mexico has opened its doors to a remarkable degree.
The Casa, through its Solidarity Lodging program, houses a mix of refugees and asylum seekers, migrants, and formerly, victims of crime. At the moment, we only have the capacity to house up to four guests through this program at one time. They are channeled here through a partner organization called Sin Fronteras, which aids with food provisions, rent, and the legal process in soliciting asylum. Still, the limited number of non-profit organizations and the tenuous economic situation in Mexico makes it difficult for refugees here to find work and support their families. They may have refugee status in the country, but refugees in Mexico still face tremendous challenges to gain economic self-sufficiency.
The escalation of drug and gang violence in Central America has profound implications for the traditional distinction between refugees– those that are forced to leave due to threat of physical harm–and migrants – those that choose to leave their country. Mexico is currently seeing a boost in the number of migrants that face similar dangers as those of refugees. In the case of Honduras, for example, migrants are forced to leave due to homicides, extortion, gang and drug related violence and other violent crime. Although these migrants can also solicit asylum once in Mexico, Mexico still faces many of the same problems as those in Central America, (a Guatemalan escaping extortion might not be safe from threats in Mexico), and to solicit asylum one must physically be in the country in which one wants asylum status. So if that same Guatemalan were to receive threats while in Mexico, that person would not be able to turn to the United States for help without crossing the border. The transnational nature of violence n the region and the fluidity of the borders between Central American nations and Mexico make Mexico a counter-intuitive place to seek asylum. Also, although its laws are in favor of receiving and offering refuge to these vulnerable populations, it has not shown the bureaucratic resources to implement these laws effectively as it will need to in order to keep up with demand for international protection.
Another option migrants in Mexico have when responding to situations of violence in Mexico is a Humanitarian Visa. It is only temporary and applies to people who have experienced crime or injury while in Mexico. This applies to the migrants mutilated by riding “the Beast” (the cargo train) or by gangs along the migrant train route. The humanitarian visa has been used to give people time to report crimes or recover from injury, but does not work effectively in reuniting families or granting temporary asylum to family members with whom the victim was traveling. This creates difficulty in terms of employment and emotional stability during this temporary period of refuge in Mexico.
Refugee or migrant, those that come to the Casa are escaping situations of violence in their home country (or in Mexico) that has left them with no choice but to pick up and leave. There is little to ensure their survival, even here in Mexico. They come with broken hearts, mutilated bodies; with active fear and open wounds. Many also come with hope, be it to start a new life in Mexico, or to have a moment of refuge amidst what is otherwise a storm of threats and chaos along migrant path through Mexico. Here, some realize that Mexico, just like their country of origin, cannot offer them the protection they need to make a better life. Or they got hit with bad luck and cannot continue on. Talking with these people, its the invisible traumas glaze over their eyes, held back by a wall of numbness.
When the truth starts to come out, when the stories emerge with the power of a levy breaking there is nothing but horror and more silence to speak for the injustices they have endured. I have seen, in the past three months, the power of these situations to break couples and families apart, to shatter dreams, to change people irreparably and I don’t know how they begin again. Even here, away from the danger, I don’t know how they begin again. I watch with awe at the vitality of the human instinct for survival, for courage and humor against so many odds.
We do as much as we can here as volunteers, be it accompanying our Solidarity Lodging guests to the doctor, helping them find apartments, offering donated clothes and sharing our communal meals. We try to make the space open and safe while realizing our limitations and all that stands between them and a stable, fulfilling life. After reaching out and extending our arms, sometimes there is nothing left to do but pray that they can stay afloat.