Migrant shelter “Brothers in the road” • Mexico

Migrant shelter "Brothers in the road"
Casa de migrantes "Hermanos en el camino"  

Initiative that offers guidance on human rights and humanitarian aid (lodging, food, medical services, legal assistance, etc) to thousands of migrants who transit through Mexico. 

Ixtepec, Oaxaca, Mexico  

Website

The Brothers in the Road Shelter offers a space of protection and comprehensive humanitarian assistance to migrants who pass through Ixtepec, Oaxaca, an almost obligatory transit point for those who enter Mexico from the south.

The Context

Year after year thousands of people from various countries of the world enter the Mexican territory in transit to the United States, where they seek better living conditions. Many of them have been fleeing the violence and poverty from their places of origin.

This huge migratory flow has existed for decades, and yet the arrival of migrants has not significantly affected the population dynamics of either Mexico or the United States (see here): Today (2019) migrants represent only 15% of the population of the United States (including 3.2% of irregular migrants) and 0.9% of that of Mexico (OIM, 2017).

Despite this, neither country has been able to formulate a system that allows the process to be regularized so that migrants are not forced to enter both countries irregularly – which puts them at risk, making them constant victims of labor abuse, and aggressions by organized networks for human trafficking, drug dealers, and corrupt elements of the authorities of both countries.

The Proposal

The Brothers in the Road (Hermanos en el Camino) Shelter offers a space of protection and humanitarian assistance to migrants who pass through Ixtepec, Oaxaca — an almost mandatory transit point for those who enter Mexico from the Chiapas side, leaving Ciudad Hidalgo and crossing that state until arriving at Oaxacan territory (most of the people are from the countries of the North Central American triangle – Honduras, Guatemala, and Salvador). This includes those who come in “the Beast”, as the freight train that several of the migrants use to cross the country from south to north is known.

The shelter not only provides protection, asylum, food, clothing, and medical and legal assistance in immigration procedures. It also carries out important work to promote the design of public policies with adherence to human rights.

Scalability

Founded in 2007 by Catholic priest Alejandro Solalinde, the shelter has been gradually improving its facilities and has even managed to scale its project by opening a new headquarters in Mexico City.

Although the migratory flow at the shelter varies all the time, its webpage advertises the attention to hundreds of people every year.

Management

The operation of the shelter is in the hands of a team in which religious from the Sisters of the Guardian Angel congregation participate. Legal advice and medical care are provided. The presence of volunteers, both national and international, is essential, since they help in management, teaching, reception and accompaniment of migrants, organization, etc.

Arriving migrants are greeted at the shelter office, where the first record of their basic data is made, they are given items including toilet paper, electrolytes, bath soap and laundry soap, and are invited to take a bath or food if they wish. They are also informed that an in-depth interview will be made as soon as possible in which their case will be evaluated to determine the type of comprehensive assistance that can be granted to them (medical, psychological, legal) and the time that they can stay at the shelter. The data contributed to the interview is shared anonymously (for statistical purposes) with the Documentation Network of Migrant Advocacy Organizations (REDODEM) that serves to coordinate work with other shelters and to keep a record of the passage of migrants through the place.

The shelter’s operational team meets once a week to discuss problems and progress and make decisions. Additionally, it calls a weekly meeting with the hosted migrants to discuss the organization of the shelter. The participation of migrants in the tasks of the shelter is somewhat improvised, as is that of the volunteers who rather self-organize based on a series of basic tasks that must be covered (receiving migrants in the canteen, open the office in the morning, etc.) and from the suggestions of the volunteers who have been there the longest. Volunteers are asked for letters of recommendation and a minimum stay of 3 weeks to be accepted.

The relationship of the shelter with the local population and authorities has not always been ideal. Although the inhabitants of Ixtepec benefit from the consumption of migrants in their businesses, for example, they, in turn, have long complained about their behaviors and there have even been complaints of abuse of members of the community.

With the start of the Social Emergency Program of the Secretariat of Welfare of the Federal Government in 2019, it has been sought that migrants receive monthly financial support while processing their papers, in exchange for performing work for the benefit of the shelter and the community.

As the length of stay of migrants depends to a large extent on the migratory procedures they carry out (request for regularization for humanitarian reasons or refugee status, for example), the shelter offers each of them a call and the possibility of using the internet to communicate with family members for 20 minutes once a day. In the library where the computers are located, there are also books, toys, and materials for learning and recreation. While adults mainly take advantage of computers to communicate with their loved ones (for security reasons, cell phones are not allowed in the shelter), children enjoy this space during their long periods of waiting, painting, playing and, occasionally learning, when volunteers organize workshops or activities.

Although both the creator and the operators of the shelter are Catholic, the shelter has been flexible to the specific characteristics and needs of the migrants it receives, establishing, for example, a special space for the transgender population, schedules for the evangelical church services to which belongs a good part of the migrants, etc.

The shelter establishes times for eating, for the use of showers and laundry rooms, as well as for the delivery of sleeping mats. Other than that, migrants are free to enter and exit the shelter during the day, after a check-up at the entrance.

Funding

The number and profile of migrants arriving at the shelter vary depending on the political environment that is being experienced regarding migration in both the United States and Mexico (whether they are adults or adolescents, single men or families, etc). The same happens with the funding: the type, origin and amount of support received by the shelter, all vary according to the relaxation or strengthening of anti-immigration policies. 

The shelter page facilitates financial contributions by granting a mechanism http://www.hermanosenelcamino.org/colabora.html both for donations and for registering the volunteers.

Today (2020), it subsists thanks to the support of, among others, the merchants of the local market in nearby town Juchitan (who supply it with food surplus from their sales), donations from individuals (especially clothing and shoes), and the support of international entities such as UNHCR (who, for example, is currently building a football field within its facilities). The shelter, however, has been careful not to receive federal funds.

A team of volunteers from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Husbandry of the National Autonomous University of Mexico is trying to reactivate the shelter’s small farm,  providing services to the Ixtepec community, with which they also seek to demonstrate that the presence of the shelter can be beneficial for them, despite the fact that many think otherwise.

At the same time, an orchard is being prepared to feed the migrant population that passes through the shelter.