Sun, Nov 25, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Tijuana declares ‘humanitarian crisis’

ABSENCE AND APATHY:The Tijuana mayor criticized the central government for ignoring US threats to close the border as a caravan of migrants settled in the city


Children in a caravan of Central Americans play in a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

The mayor of Tijuana has declared a humanitarian crisis in the Mexican border city and said on Friday that he was asking the UN for aid to deal with the about 5,000 Central American migrants, most of whom were camped out inside a sports complex.

The comments by Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum came as city officials and volunteers worked together to assist the 4,976 men, women and children who had arrived after more than a month on the road.

The administration of US President Donald Trump 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 was not enough.

“Because of the absence, the apathy and the abandonment of the federal government, we are having to turn to international institutions like the UN,” 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, the city government issued a statement saying that it was requesting help from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Vazquez, who plays on a soccer team that uses the sports complex, said that Mexico should step up and process humanitarian visas for the group so they can start looking for work.

The migrant caravan that left Honduras in the middle of last month 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.

However, in those places, the caravan stayed at most two nights.

In Tijuana, many of the migrants who are fleeing violence and poverty are seeking asylum in the US, and face the prospect of spending months in the border city before they have the opportunity to speak with a US official.

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

“That’s serious,” he said.

Adelaida Gonzalez, 37, of Guatemala City, arrived in Tijuana three days earlier and was having a hard time adjusting.

She was tired of sleeping on a blanket on a dirt field, of waiting 30 minutes to go to the bathroom and again to get food, and did not know how much more she could take.

“We would not have risked coming if we had known it was going to be this hard,” said Gonzales, who left Guatemala with her 15-year-old son and her neighbor.

Alicia Ramirez, 65, a Tijuana businesswoman, said she had been worried she would not be able to make her annual Black Friday crossing to do her Christmas shopping, but had no trouble walking into California.

Still, the threat of a border closure kept her daughters in Los Angeles from coming to see her for the holidays.

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