Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

Surge of Refugees from Africa, Caribbean Overwhelm Private Shelters in Tijuana

Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

Surge of Refugees from Africa, Caribbean Overwhelm Private Shelters in Tijuana

Article excerpt

Migrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and other regions have started to flood Tijuana in the hope of receiving political asylum in the US. The large influx of refugees, which caught Mexican and US authorities by surprise, comes on top of the many migrants from Guerrero and Michoacan who are escaping drug-related violence in their states (SourceMex, Jan. 22, 2014, and Feb. 19, 2014). This sudden increase of migrants during May and June has overwhelmed privately run shelters in the border city, creating what one shelter director describes as a "refugee crisis."

Humanitarian organizations and officials on both sides of the border said they were uncertain what caused the sudden influx, but they say many of them come from Ghana and Haiti. There are no exact numbers available, but local humanitarian organizations estimate that hundreds of migrants have arrived in recent weeks. While these numbers are large enough to overwhelm the system of private shelters in the city, the totals are far below the thousands of refugees from Central America, primarily women and children, that flooded South Texas in 2014 (SourceMex, June 25, 2014; NotiCen, Aug. 14, 2014, and Aug. 28, 2014).

Authorities first noticed the surge in Tijuana at the end of May, when several hundred asylum seekers walked up to the port of entry at San Ysidro, on the border between Tijuana and San Diego, California.

Refugees seek asylum in US

"Nobody seems to know why this happened in late May 2016," said Rev. Pat Murphy, director of the Casa del Migrante, a shelter run by the Scalabrinian order of priests. "One of the theories is that somebody figured out they can make money on this, and so smuggling started from down south of Mexico."

There are some reports that a global network of human traffickers is behind the surge of refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, who arrive in Tijuana via South America. "One group is in charge of transporting the refugees out of Africa, another takes them through South America, and a third takes charge of the trek through [Central America] and Mexico," said BBC Mundo.

Rodolfo Figueroa Pacheco, who heads the Tijuana office of the Instituto Nacional de Migracion (INM), said it is very difficult to determine how big of a role the smuggling networks are playing. "It's a mixed bag. I'm sure some are connected to smuggling networks, but some are not," he said.

Another factor behind the surge in refugees in Tijuana could be that social media has allowed word of mouth to spread quickly among would-be asylum seekers. "The successful experience of a single refugee is soon broadcast via social media, attracting more and more people to try the proven geopolitical routes, all with their eyes set on the American Dream," said the online English-language newspaper Mexico News Daily.

For many of the refugees who work with smugglers, the trip begins with a plane ride from Ghana or another African country to Brazil. The entry to Brazil is relatively easy because the South American country has had a close relationship with many nations in Africa. Bus rides through a variety of routes then take the refugees through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Central America, and into southern Mexico. The transit through Ecuador is easy because that country has not required visas for African visitors since 2008.

According to BBC Mundo, the number of Africans detained in Tapachula, Chiapas, increased to almost 2,100 in 2015, compared with 545 in 2013. Those are only the number of detainees, however. Many of the immigrants who arrive in Mexico from Africa immediately turn themselves in to immigration authorities to obtain an exit document known as oficio de salida, which gives them 30 days to leave the country. Those refugees are not counted among the detainees.

A number of the African refugees say they emigrated because of persecution. "I left my country because of political problems," a refugee named Fahid told BBC Mundo. …

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