Caravan Migrants at US-Mexico Border Begin Hunger Strike
TIJUANA, MEXICO — December 1, 2018
A group of Central American migrants who are camped out at the US-Mexico border began a hunger strike on Thursday, saying they want to pressure the US to allow them to apply for asylum, but also to protest Mexican authorities who are blocking the caravan's way north.
Authorities in Tijuana have started to relocate more than 6,000 Central Americans to a new shelter, after the rundown sports center where they have been camped out for more than two weeks descended into squalor.
Torrential rains this week have compounded the migrants’ misery, flooding the crowded sports complex where they sleep shoulder-to-shoulder in tents and shelters made from cardboard, garbage bags and blankets.
Gustavo Alocer, a representative from Mexico’s human rights commission, described the situation as a humanitarian crisis, while UNICEF has said that it is “deeply concerned” for the well-being of more than 1,000 children who arrived in the string of migrant caravans.
So the immigrants decided to go on a hunger strike, including many women.
"Since no one is listening to us, we've decided as a women's movement... to launch a hunger strike," said Claudia Miranda, from Honduras, at an improvised press conference in Tijuana.
The women attempted to set up a picket in front of the border immigration offices, but were blocked by police.
President Trump has been trying to introduce harsher immigration policies to ban migrants who enter the country illegally from applying for asylum. This has led many in the caravan to request humanitarian and working visas in Mexico instead.
On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of people tried to evade a Mexican police blockade and run toward a giant border crossing that leads into San Diego.
In response, the United States Customs and Border Protection agency shut down the border crossing in both directions and fired tear gas to push back migrants from the border fence. The border was reopened later Sunday evening.
"What the police are doing is unfair. The truth is we are fighting for our rights," said one of the migrants, Gerson Madrid, a 22-year-old Honduran.
The mayor of Tijuana said that his city was facing a humanitarian catastrophe.
"It's people we are dealing with," said Juan Manuel Gastelum. "It's integrity, dignity. They need a place to sit and sleep. What would happen if someone started a riot? Who's going to be responsible?"
Around 350 migrants have opted to be deported back to their home countries. But most are planning to stay in Mexico while they plot their next steps.
Many of the migrants admit frankly that, when they set out, they had no real strategy beyond reaching the US border.
“I didn’t really have much of a plan when I left Honduras: everyone said that we would be able to cross the border – I thought it would be easier,” said 29-year-old Yocelyn Alvarado as she picked up her 3-year-old son Fernando to stop him from wandering into a vast puddle of stinking floodwater and sodden trash.
“My son is always sick here,” said Alvarado. “if he’s not vomiting, he has diarrhea and a persistent cough. I want to wait for asylum, but now I’m thinking I’ll arrange my paperwork to stay in Mexico and get a job.”
Outside the shelter, Carlos Alfaro, a 33-year-old construction worker said his neighbourhood in San Salvador, was on the front line between territory claimed by rival gangs.
“You can’t cross the street because if you move from one gang’s territory to the other, they’ll kill you. Because I live on the line, they both want to kill me,” he said.
But he had no way to prove his story, and knew that he had little hope of claiming asylum. “I guess I’ll stay in Tijuana and find a job. Then we’ll see – at this point I’d rather be in jail in the US than in my country.”
But US border authorities limit asylum applications at the San Ysidro border crossing to between 40 and 100 per day, and thousands of people are trapped in the bottleneck.
Even before the caravans arrived, an unofficial waiting list managed by migrants themselves had about 3,000 names, and the waiting time to start an asylum application was about a month.
Now, the list has ballooned to over 5,000 and the waiting time has doubled.