Sat, Dec 01, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Tijuana migrants see hygiene worsen

MIGRANT CARAVAN:The municipality said it would open a new shelter, but a health worker warned many migrants might prefer squalid conditions over leaving the border


Jonathan, a one-year-old boy from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America, gestures toward rainwater dripping from his family’s tent while taking refuge at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, on Thursday.

Photo: Reuters

Aid workers and humanitarian organizations on Thursday expressed concerns about unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people, and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant.

As a chill rain fell, the dust that coated everyone and everything in the open-air stadium turned to mud, making the already miserable conditions worse. On one side of the complex, a mud pit grew where people took outdoor showers next to a line of foul-smelling portable toilets.

The one large wedding-style tent pitched in the middle of a sports field and several smaller ones with a capacity for just a few hundred people were far from adequate for the swelling number of migrants who keep arriving daily.

The vast majority of the migrants were camped in makeshift enclosures made of lashed blankets and sheets of plastic or flimsy tents. Another 200 people slept on sidewalks because they couldn’t find space in the complex or decided it was more comfortable outside.

“The truth is there is no room there inside. We asked yesterday,” said Astrid Yajaira of Sonsonante, El Salvador, who spent the night with three friends on a sidewalk in front of a warehouse across the street from the stadium. She had a sore throat and had hoped to find shelter inside.

UNICEF said that it was “deeply concerned” for the well-being of more than 1,000 migrant children waiting in Tijuana or still moving north through Mexico.

According to local officials, of the more than 6,150 migrants at the shelter as of Wednesday, 1,068 were children.

“These children have limited access to many of the essential services they need for their well-being, including nutrition, education, psychosocial support and healthcare,” UNICEF said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Mexican National Human Rights Commission also urged the government to act, noting that the sports complex was only planned to house 3,500 migrants and now had nearly twice that many.

“It’s unmanageable,” said Edgar Corzo, who heads the commission’s migrant rights division.

The overcrowding “can produce all kinds of infections, all kinds of things can spread and we have four cases of chicken pox. They are contained, but it’s a risk,” he said.

As night fell, authorities began moving about 200 migrants to a new shelter farther from the border.

Miguel Angel Luna Biffano, a health volunteer with the Nazarene Church Compassion Ministries, which has been accompanying the caravan since the migrants crossed into southern Mexico, said that his aid group was dealing with lice and nit infestations, as well as many respiratory infections.

In the tropical south, they had mostly treated dehydration, and feet damaged and blistered from walking hundreds of kilometers.

“The overcrowding here causes them to get into places where they shouldn’t like under the bleachers” where it’s filthy, Luna said. “There’s overcrowding and very few hygiene norms… With the water and the cold there are going to be too many infections, a lot of fevers. There is going to be a need for antibiotics.”

On Wednesday, a group of migrant volunteers joined municipal workers in bagging up garbage.

Wearing latex gloves, Darwin Doanin Bardales said he had offered to help because the unsanitary conditions were a health risk.

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