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 protective space 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

Thousands of people from various countries enter Mexico each year in transit to the USA, where they seek better living conditions. Many are fleeing the violence and poverty of 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): in 2019 migrants represented only 15% of the population of the United States (including 3.2% of irregular migrants), and 0.9% of that of Mexico (OIM, 2017).

Yet, despite this, neither country has been able to find a way to effectively regulate this process. Instead, migrants are forced to enter both countries irregularly – putting themselves at risk of labor abuse, human trafficking, or becoming victims of drug dealers and corrupt elements of the authorities of both countries.

The Proposal

The Brothers in the Road Shelter (Albergue Hermanos en el Camino) 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 (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 gradually improved its facilities and has managed to scale its project by opening a new branch in Mexico City.

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

Management

A team helped by members from the Sisters of the Guardian Angel congregation operate the shelter. The presence of volunteers, both national and international, is essential, since they help in management, teaching, and in the reception and accompaniment of migrants.

New migrants are greeted at the shelter office, where the first record of their basic data is made. They are given items including electrolytes, toilet paper, and bath and laundry soap, and are invited to wash or eat, as they wish. They are given an in-depth interview to evaluate their case and determine the type of assistance that can be provided (medical, psychological, legal) and the time they can stay at the shelter.

Anonymous data from the interview is shared for statistical purposes with the REDODEM – the Documentation Network of Migrant Advocacy Organizations. The network coordinates with other shelters and records the passage of migrants through the area.

The shelter’s operational team meets weekly to discuss any problems the shelter has and to make decisions. It also hosts weekly meetings with migrants to discuss the organization of the shelter. Migrant participation in the running of the shelter is improvised. Volunteers self-organize and cover a series of basic tasks such as receiving migrants in the canteen, and opening the office in the morning. Volunteers are asked for letters of recommendation and a minimum stay of three weeks.

The relationship of the shelter with the local population and authorities has not always been ideal. Ixtepec residents benefit from the economic boost migrants give local businesses. However, they are often unhappy with the behavior of some migrants. To help alleviate the situation, the shelter advocated for migrants to receive a monthly financial support from the Social Emergency Program of the Secretariat of Welfare of the Federal Government started in 2019, in exchange for community work, while they regularize their legal status in the country.

The length migrants stay at the shelter depends on the assistance they need and the migratory procedures they are carrying out (request for regularization for humanitarian reasons or refugee status, for example).

The shelter offers each migrant a phone call and 20 minutes of internet usage per day. Its library holds computers, books, toys and other material for education and recreation. Children enjoy this space during their long periods of waiting – painting, playing and, occasionally, learning when volunteers organize workshops or activities.

Although its creator and operators are Catholic, the shelter is flexible according to the needs of its users. For example, a space for transgender migrants was established, and evangelical church services are often allowed.

The shelter has established times for eating, showering, sleeping and laundry. Other than that, migrants are free to enter and exit the shelter during the day.

Funding

The number and profile of migrants arriving at the shelter depend upon the political environment of both the USA and Mexico (whether they are adults or adolescents, single men or families, etc). The same is true of funding: the type, origin and amount of support received by the shelter vary according to the relaxation or strengthening of anti-immigration policies.

The shelter’s webpage makes it easy to donate, and to register volunteers.

In 2020, the shelter subsists thanks to the support of many people and organizations:

  • Merchants in Juchitan’s local market supply the shelter with surplus food.
  • Citizens donate clothing, shoes and money.
  • International organizations – for example UNHCR, are currently building a football field for the shelter.
  • 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 seek both to generate an extra revenue for the shelter and also to demonstrate that the presence of the shelter can be beneficial for them, despite the fact that many think otherwise.
  • An orchard is being established to help feed the migrant population that passes through the shelter.

The shelter has been careful not to receive federal funds, to keep its autonomy in defining the scope of its humanitarian assistance.