Ti­juana asks for UN help as mi­grants reach the bor­der

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Front Page - BY JULIE WAT­SON

The mayor of Ti­juana has de­clared a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in his bor­der city and said Fri­day that he has asked the United Na­tions for aid to deal with the ap­prox­i­mately 5,000 Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants who have ar­rived.

The com­ments by Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum came as city of­fi­cials and vol­un­teers worked to­gether to as­sist the 4,976 men, women and chil­dren, most of whom were camped out at a makeshift shel­ter at a sports com­plex af­ter spend­ing more than a month on the road. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has spent weeks lam­bast­ing the car­a­van, which it said was filled with crim­i­nals, gang mem­bers and even – it in­sin­u­ated at one point with­out any proof – ter­ror­ists.

Manuel Figueroa, who leads the city’s so­cial ser­vices de­part­ment, said Ti­juana was bring­ing in portable toi­lets and show­ers, as well as sham­poo and soap.

It wasn’t enough. “Be­cause of the ab­sence, the ap­a­thy and the aban­don­ment of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, we are hav­ing to turn to in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions like the U.N.,” Figueroa said.

Rene Vazquez, 60, a Ti­juana res­i­dent who was vol­un­teer­ing at the sta­dium, said Mex­ico’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment ig­nored the prob­lem by al­low­ing the car­a­van to cross the coun­try with­out stop­ping. Now the city of 1.6 mil­lion is stuck with the fall­out.

“I don’t have any­thing against the mi­grants, they were the most de­ceived, but this is af­fect­ing us all,” Vazquez said.

Gastelum vowed not to com­mit the city’s pub­lic re­sources to deal­ing with the sit­u­a­tion. On Thurs­day, his gov­ern­ment is­sued a state­ment say­ing that it was re­quest­ing help from the U.N.’s Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs.

Vasquez, who plays on a soc­cer team that uses the sports com­plex, said Mex­ico should step up now and process hu­man­i­tar­ian visas for the group so they can start look­ing for work. Mean­while, since his soc­cer team can no longer prac­tice in the sta­dium, he was spend­ing time pass­ing out do­nated piz­zas and roasted chicken to the mi­grants.

The mi­grant car­a­van that left Hon­duras in mid-Oc­to­ber was mostly well re­ceived by the towns it passed through along the way to the bor­der. Even cities with few re­sources made sure the mi­grants had food and a place to rest.

But in those places, the car­a­van stayed at most two nights – with the ex­cep­tion of Mex­ico City. In Ti­juana, many of the mi­grants who are flee­ing vi­o­lence and poverty are seek­ing asy­lum in the United States and face the prospect of spend­ing months in the bor­der city be­fore they have the op­por­tu­nity to speak with a U.S. of­fi­cial.

Gastelum said Fri­day that the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment has talked about send­ing 20 tons of re­sources to Ti­juana to help but that three-fourths con­sisted of ma­te­ri­als to re­in­force the bor­der and only 5 tons were for the mi­grants.

The mayor also crit­i­cized the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for not tak­ing more se­ri­ously Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s threat Thurs­day to shut down the bor­der if his ad­min­is­tra­tion de­ter­mined Mex­ico had lost “con­trol” of the sit­u­a­tion in Ti­juana.

“That’s se­ri­ous,” he said.

The mi­grants also were re­ceiv­ing sup­port from lo­cal churches, cit­i­zens, as well as Baja state agen­cies.

RO­DRIGO ABD AP

Jonathan Tor­res, 11, stands next to his fa­ther af­ter wak­ing up early Fri­day as Mex­i­can riot po­lice, in the back­ground, move to the Cha­parral bor­der cross­ing in Ti­juana.

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