Social Issues

Spanish NGO in forefront of efforts to aid LatAm migrants in US

By Paula Escalada Medrano

Washington, Dec 8 (EFE).- Spain-based international humanitarian nonprofit SAMU has taken on a leading role in providing assistance to Latin American migrants to the United States who find themselves unwitting pawns in a political squabble between Republican state governors and the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden.

Founded nearly 40 years ago in Seville, SAMU set up a US branch, SAMU First Response, here in 2017 with a primary focus on seeking donations to fund the group’s global operations.

But that changed in April of this year, when undocumented migrants apprehended on the southern border began arriving in the District of Columbia (the municipality’s official name) aboard buses chartered by the Republican governors of Texas and Arizona.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona’s Doug Ducey accuse Biden of failing to help their states cope with the flow of migrants.

The governors send the migrants north – to New York and Chicago as well as to the District of Columbia – without any prior notification to authorities in those cities and the travelers are dumped at bus stations.

“In April, when the buses began to arrive, members of our team, which was very small, started to participate as volunteers and from that the necessity emerged for there to be a single organization that provides immediate emergency services and seeks government funds for that,” SAMU First Response Managing Director Tatiana Laborde tells EFE.

By June, SAMU First Response had assembled a dedicated team of around 30 people who greet the migrants as they get off the buses with little or no money in their pockets.

Migrants can shower and rest at the organization’s facility, where each receives a kit including hygiene products, clean clothes and snacks.

Roughly 5,000 migrants have been brought to Washington on 124 buses and every week sees three or four more bus arrive with people who have endured hardship and faced perils in pursuit of a better life in the US.

“We have them fill out a questionnaire to learn where they are from, where they are going and if they have relatives nearby,” Laborde says. “We begin by helping them with transportation and if they are going to New York, for example, we buy them bus tickets.”

For those who decide to remain in the Washington area, SAMU First Response offers meals and lodging for “three or four days” at the shelter it opened in June in Montgomery County, Maryland, about 40 minutes from the center of DC.

The decision to locate SAMU’s US branch in Washington was made by Juan Gonzalez de Escalada, head of the NGO’s Emergency division.

“My emotional connection with Washington is very strong,” he told EFE in a telephone interview. “I lived in the city between 2000 and 2008, studying and working, and I came to know the strong philanthropic character of US society.”

“We saw that there was an opportunity to appeal to the American donor,” he added.

A year after SAMU First Response opened its office in DC, televised images of thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the US southern border inspired the staff to expand their mission beyond fund-raising.

“After so much time assisting minors in Spain, seeing the news tugged at our heartstrings and we had the idea to open a center in Washington implementing the model that we apply in Spain,” Gonzalez de Escalada said.

That initiative remains on hold as SAMU First Response works to help the migrants bussed to Washington. EFE pem/dr

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