Social Issues

Migrants across the Americas in precarious situations amid Covid-19 crisis

By Ares Biescas Rue, Cesar Contreras and Laura Barros

Bogota/Ciudad Juarez/Washington, Apr 3 (efe-epa).- Stay-at-home orders have been issued by numerous federal and regional governments in the Americas during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, but many migrants have no safe place to go and instead find themselves on the street, stranded mid-journey or in crowded shelters or detention centers.

Stories abound from South America to the United States of migrants who in addition to their normal daily battles for survival now face an additional anguish due to the fast-spreading novel coronavirus, which has prompted countries to shut their borders and led to these people being portrayed as disease carriers.

“I’ve spent a week on the street. Sitting here and having the police come by and remove us isn’t the same as having a room and being truly protected from the coronavirus,” Michel Briceño, a Venezuelan migrant who has spent the first few days of a nationwide quarantine exposed to Bogota’s chilly temperatures, told Efe.

He is joined by other families who sit on the sidewalk with their few belongings in downtown Bogota’s Santa Fe neighborhood, a red-light district with zero-star hotels and pay-by-the-day shelters.

Colombia is home to the largest number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants – 1.6 million, a third of the nearly 5 million who have fled that crisis-racked country in recent years, according to the United Nations. Around 58 percent of those people are undocumented, according to immigration authorities.

Humanitarian organizations and migrant associations say hotels and shelters in Bogota have evicted dozens of families who are currently unable to afford the modest cost of their rooms because the Covid-19 quarantine has frozen the informal economy and their jobs.

“Since this began, we’ve been out of work, with no dinner, no lunch; I’m just eating bread, with no salchichon (a salami-type sausage),” Briceño said.

Thousands of kilometers from Bogota and even further from his native Brazil, Carlos is another migrant facing a similar ordeal amid the pandemic.

The weekend has arrived in the northern Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez and the only thing on this immigrant’s mind is the uncertainty he and his Brazilian countrymen face as they await their asylum appointments in El Paso, Texas.

“The most difficult part was when they granted our request for an asylum interview and told us we had to return to Mexico and wait for the appointment, which was scheduled for April 21. It was very difficult because we knew nothing about Ciudad Juarez,” Carlos, who uses only his first name out of fear of reprisals, told Efe.

While waiting, he is living at a shelter in a crime-ridden sector of Ciudad Juarez along with his wife and children, as well as seven other Brazilian families and dozens of other migrants, most of whom arrived from Guatemala, Honduras and even Ecuador.

“The people give us shelter here. They support us, but now with the coronavirus we’re more vulnerable because we don’t have medicine or doctors who are prepared to treat us here. And we have to pay the doctors and we don’t have the means,” said Carlos, who has been in Mexico for more than a month and a half.

Carlos is one of tens of thousands of people affected by a United States government policy that went into effect in January 2019 and is known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), under which migrants are forced to remain in Mexico while waiting for the conclusion of their legal proceedings.

As part of that policy, the Mexican government – under pressure from the US, which had threatened to impose tariffs on all Mexican imports if that country did not halt the northward movement of mostly Central Americans migrants – agreed in June of last year to send 6,000 members of its newly formed National Guard to the Mexico-Guatemala border to prevent further migration to the US.

Another migrant, Jasmin Cabrera, and her family had to leave their house in Maracaibo, Venezuela, with nothing but the clothes on their backs after government officials burst into their home looking for her husband, Julio Nuñez, a teacher who had quit his job at a technical institute because he was being forced to attend pro-government rallies, among other reasons, his wife told Efe.

Nuñez was not at home at the time of the operation and managed to escape, although his wife and their son were beaten.

Fearful of reprisals for denouncing that incident, that family of five fled to Colombia and then traveled on to the US.

But they became separated during that northward journey.

While Jasmin and her children arrived by plane in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, without difficulties because they had visas and then went to Georgia, Julio lacked a visa and opted to cross the border illegally from Mexico.

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