Indigenous refugee camp in Mexico City: We don’t believe in coronavirus

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Mexico City, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- Alejandra Gutierrez does not have access to water to wash her hands, as Mexican authorities have instructed everyone to do. She is one of the 80 indigenous people who lost their homes in the 2017 earthquake and who are living in a refugee camp in downtown Mexico City without protection amid a pandemic in which they don’t believe.

After three years living under bad conditions with her four children in an improvised field tent, the coronavirus is not really one of her priorities: “The bare truth is we don’t believe in this disease. The (capital residents) do believe in it, but we – the people – don’t,” she told EFE.

The camp is located on a street corner in the Juarez neighborhood, a comfortable district in central Mexico City where the contrast between the neoclassical buildings and the plastic tents tied to trees is very evident.

In the tents, in each of which up to four families are housed, there’s no space for the social distancing measures decreed by the government or for people to remain at home simply because there’s no room.

This Otomi Indian community, originally from the central state of Queretaro, settled more than two decades ago on the grounds of the old embassy of the Second Spanish Republic.

But, the building became completely uninhabitable after the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that struck the country on Sept. 19, 2017, killing more than 200 people in the capital and bringing down dozens of structures.

“It’s going to be three years that we’ve been on the street. The authorities haven’t taken note of it yet. We’re receiving no help, we’ve gotten nothing from them and we don’t know what’s going to happen now,” Alejandra said, fed up with demanding help to find dignified housing, for which she and her fellow refugees are ready to pay if necessary.

Their location doesn’t make neighborly relations any easier. The Indians, who have to dodge the ropes holding up their tents to go to the neighborhood grocery store, complain about the noise and conditions on the street.

Their children play soccer amid clouds of flies and under a blazing sun.

“There are problems with the neighbors. If they were to put themselves in our shoes, they’d notice that it’s not because we want to be here (at the camp), it’s because we need a home. The lives of the kids are at risk,” said Alejandra, who has lived in the capital for nine years.

But what gets on the Indians’ nerves is when there’s a robbery in the area. Then, the police show up right away at their camp. “This isn’t right. We’re Indians, but we also know how to earn our own money. We don’t rob people,” she said.

Living in constant fear that they will be routed out of their tents by the authorities, as has occurred with other refugee camps, now there’s a new problem: the pandemic has destroyed their main means of support – selling handicrafts.

“There’s nobody on the street. The authorities say that we can’t go out, but we have to work. We live day to day, we don’t have fixed jobs,” said Alejandra as she displays with her son the rag dolls they sew at the camp and try to sell to passersby.

It’s been 15 days since the federal government decreed the Covid-19 health emergency, obligating everyone to halt all non-essential economic activities and instructing the public to remain at home during the pandemic, which so far has resulted in 5,399 confirmed coronavirus cases in Mexico and 406 deaths.

In two weeks, no health officials have come near the Otomis’ camp and the residents have to go to a nearby fountain to fill containers with water and cannot get any hand sanitizer or facemasks anywhere.

Concerned about that, Guadalupe, a neighborhood representative who has a good relationship with the Indians, called a health clinic that immediately sent over a group of healthcare workers who distributed vitamins, protein concentrate and sanitizer gel for the children.

“We all need it, but they – because of the conditions (in which they live) … if there’s an outbreak here, it will multiply,” said Guadalupe, who has lived in the area for 15 years.

The children crowded in front of a table set up by the healthcare workers, who explained to the mothers that they have to disinfect everything repeatedly, but the women don’t have much idea how to do that effectively.

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