Migrants at the heart of Tijuana

From Monday, March 25 to  28, 2019, Fr. Daniel LeBlanc, OMI and I visited Tijuana, Mexico.  The main purpose was to look more closely at the migrants and refugees situation on the border between the United States and Mexico border.  On March 26, we drove along the border on the Mexico  side.  We could see that the United States is building a new fence beside the older one.  In between there is a space for patrols to monitor the movement of people and to control the border.

Meeting the migrants

On the same day, March 26th, Fr. Bill, OMI drove us to two migrant centers in Tijuana City run by Sclabrini Priests and Sisters.  “Instituto Madre Asumta, A.C” is a migrant center for women and children migrants, while “Centro Scalabrini” is for men and boys.  Four Scalabrini Sisters and some lay persons are in charge of doing ministry to provide shelter, food and clothing for the migrants.  According to the Scalabrini Sisters, the center used to be for 45 people only, but now there are more than 90 people, way beyond full capacity.  The same situation can be found at the other center. According to one of the staff there, the capacity of the center used to be for 90 people, but now there are more than 150 inhabitants. 

In terms of their nationalities, many of these migrants and refugees come from Haiti, Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras. But there are also some families from Afghanistan and other Central American countries.  Most of these people fled their countries because of poverty, social conflict, political turmoil, discrimination and natural disasters.  They all are dreaming of a better life and freedom.

We had an opportunity to speak personally with four male migrants, two of whom are from Guatemala, one from Honduras and the other from Nicaragua.  These people came with a caravan in November 2018, hoping they could pass across the US border and gain a better life.  But they failed because they didn’t have enough documents in their hands.  The government of Mexico has granted each of them a temporary visa for work, but it is only valid until 2020. They didn’t know what would happen next.

Raising awareness about VIVAT international 

There were two moments where we spoke about VIVAT International and its concerns.  The first one was with a Catholic youth group in Tijuana. Organized by Fr. Jessy, an Oblate priest, the young people asked about what VIVAT is doing at the United Nations.  They also wanted to know what success stories VIVAT has done at the UN.  Daniel LeBlanc and I explained to them that as a faith based non-governmental organization in consultative status with Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (UNECOSOC) VIVAT has been working with many other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address some local, national and global issues such as migration and refugees, human trafficking, water and sanitation, indigenous peoples’ rights, mining, global warming and so on.  These issues basically come from our members working at local and national levels.  VIVAT’s role is to speak on behalf of these people to the United Nations and Member States.  The goal is three-fold: first, to bring the issues to the attention of both United Nations and Member States; second, to put pressure on Member States to act on human rights violations; and third, to contribute to the UN global policies for social development and human rights improvement.  One of the success stories was the inclusion of water and sanitation as human rights in the Sustainable Development Goals or 2030 Agenda.

On March 27, we were invited to speak at a diocesan seminary in Tijuana.  The topic was about Religion and the United Nations.  Daniel and I informed them that many people of faith work at the UN. In particular we mentioned the presence of the Holy See and religious at the UN (RUN)—faith based organizations (or more precisely, organizations founded by priests, nuns and brothers) working at the United  Nations.  All of these organizations are in collaboration with Member States and United Nations agencies, most of whom promote the values of the Kingdom of God—justice, peace, love, prosperity, equality, life and dignity of all.  Many activists speak in the name of religion to influence to United Nations’ policies and actions.  Even Pope Francis’ Laudato Si was often quoted by many to protect life and to give more concerns to “our Mother Earth.”

Follow up is important

After meeting with migrants and students, we took a while to reflect on what should be done to align ourselves with the marginalized and to promote and protect their rights.  We urged those with whom we met to promote life, dignity and human rights. Furthermore, we encouraged them to make use of VIVAT International as a tool or instrument of doing advocacy at the international level.

Robert Mirsel, SVD