A group of men sit down to eat in the kitchen of the Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico, Dec. 20, 2015. The center is a project of the Kino Border Initiative, a binational church ministry for migrants. (CNS photo by Nancy Wiechec)

A group of men sit down to eat in the kitchen of the Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico, Dec. 20, 2015. The center is a project of the Kino Border Initiative, a binational church ministry for migrants. (CNS photo by Nancy Wiechec)

Refugees at border share hardships endured during pandemic

TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) – More than a dozen men, women and children provided a glimpse into the desperate living conditions they endure in Nogales, Mexico, while the world struggles with COVID-19.

They stood outside the Kino Border Initiative’s Migrant Outreach Center in the Mexican state of Sonora April 23.

Each adult, speaking through a translator and broadcast via livestream on the Kino Border Initiative’s Facebook page, spoke about the dangers of living on the streets as local shelters closed because of illness.

They travel during the day to the outreach center for food, and then try to escape the heat at a local park while avoiding police who would detain them and gangs that would abuse them.

One woman, Inez, was there with her 2-year-old son, fleeing violence in Guerrero, Mexico. She was lucky to be living with a woman in a stable home, although she described her son as in “a delicate state.”

“We are pretty desperate right now. I don’t know how much longer we can stay here,” she said.

She discussed having been abducted two months earlier and driven to a remote area. She was ordered to turn over valuables and her cellphone. They managed to escape, she said.

Inez cannot read English and does not know when or where she has to go for immigration proceedings.

A refugee named Sergio said he had uncles in the U.S., but that both had been laid off because of COVID-19. He was grateful for the meals provided by the center and had lost track of how long he had been in Nogales.

Oswaldo, 38, had traveled from Guatemala with his 17-year-old son. They had been in Nogales 32 days.

“The pandemic has made things more complicated for us,” said Oswaldo, whose shelter is closing because of sickness. He noted that a friend had to take a taxi one time, and the driver tried to take him somewhere else, but he escaped. “It’s not very safe here,” Oswaldo said.

When they were on the street, the local police stopped them because of an order to shelter in place. They were detained and forced to produce documents. Once he explained their situation, they were released, Oswaldo said.

“We don’t come here for fun. We come here from our countries because we need to, because of the violence there,” he said.

Edwin, 45, was traveling with his son, 14, from Guatemala. They were sleeping at the same shelter that is closing and had a scary experience, saying that people watch them all the time when they are walking down the street. The shelter allowed them to shower, but there was nowhere to clean their clothes.

He described the period as “a calamity” with “no ability to get work. It really scares us.”

Juan was traveling with his 16-year-old daughter and had no money for bus fare to the migrant center for meals.

He said he hadn’t yet figured out how they will get to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and then, El Paso, Texas, for his court hearing June 8.

One woman, who fought through tears and did not identify herself, talked about arriving in Nogales with her 6-year-old daughter and looking for work. The two were separated briefly and her daughter got sick. “You can still see the scars from where she got chickenpox,” she said. “It’s a little bit better now.”

The woman can’t read and write and doesn’t know her court date.

Sofia is a single mom who fled violence from Guerrero with her two daughters, ages 3 and 5. She has been living with a family in Nogales and helps around the house with chores. They have been in Nogales for five months and have no idea when they will be able to apply to come to the U.S.

Staff of the Kino Border Initiative explained that an earlier border closing for nonessential travel left people like Sofia in limbo. “The only option we have is to wait,” she said.

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