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Haitian migrants struggle to start new life in Mexico

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Haitian migrants rest outside a shelter in Monterrey in northern Mexico./AFP
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Sep 29, 2021 - 09:18 AM

MONTERREY, MEXICO — Haitian migrants turned away at the US border are struggling to adapt to life in Mexico, where crime, a lack of jobs and difficulties obtaining documents are sapping their morale.

The United States announced on Friday that the last of the migrants camped illegally under a bridge on the Texas side of the border had either left or been removed, many deported to Haiti.

Hours later Haitian migrants abandoned another makeshift encampment in Ciudad Acuna on the Mexican side of the border.

But their departure was by no means the end of a crisis that has seen tens of thousands of Haitians arrive in Mexico since August hoping to reach the United States.

Other cities such as Monterrey in northeast Mexico are now seeing increased inflows of migrants fleeing poverty and violence in their countries, or dwindling opportunities in South American nations where they emigrated years ago.

“We Haitians dream of reaching the United States so our families have a better life, but the immigration authorities don’t let anyone through. That’s why we’re here,” Joseph Yorel, 34, told AFP in an overcrowded shelter in Monterrey.

For now he has decided to stay in Mexico with his wife and seven-month-old son while his refugee application is processed.

“If I find a job so that I can live in Mexico and support my family … then I have no problem staying here,” he said.

‘Tip of iceberg’ 

Yorel and his family traveled to Mexico overland from Chile, crossing a dozen countries including the Darien Gap, a lawless swath of jungle between Colombia and Panama.

At least 19,000 Haitians are stranded near the Colombia-Panama border hoping to follow in his footsteps.

Thousands more are waiting in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula for documents that would allow them to continue north.

Even in Monterrey, one of Mexico’s most industrialized cities, finding a job is no easy task.

“My cousin spent all day looking for work. I asked the company over there for a job, but they told me there isn’t any,” Yorel said, pointing to a nearby building.

The migrants are applying for refugee status with the help of volunteer lawyers, but the process can take months.

The Casa Indi hostel in Monterrey has seen a surge in arrivals over the past week and now provides assistance to around 2,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, said spokesman Jose Salinas.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“We expect many more will come from Tapachula because it’s a ticking time bomb there. Not only Haitians but also Central Americans and other nationalities,” Salinas said.

‘Can’t go out’

Some migrants receive remittances sent by relatives from the United States, but the money is not enough and they also rely on charity.

They sleep on blankets on the ground, drink water from containers provided by the shelter and line up to receive food.

Children spend their time playing soccer or jumping rope.

When night falls, they avoid leaving the shelter for fear of becoming victims of crime or police abuse.

One migrant who did not want to be named said thieves took $200 sent by a relative. Others say they have had their cell phones stolen.

“We can’t go out to dinner. The police here are very bad. I don’t know about Mexicans, but the police treat us foreigners very badly,” Yorel said.

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