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“Migrant shelters”

are places of hope for migrants in Guatemala

As the number of migrants from Central America to the United States and Mexico continues to increase, local organizations in countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador are working to provide support to the large number of migrants, as well as to help create means of subsistence and opportunities to prevent people from making the difficult, and often dangerous, decision to migrate.

One of these organizations is the Migrant Shelter in Guatemala City, which has provided assistance to more than 50,000 people since 2018, from which 3,000 occurred in 2021 alone.

The Migrant Shelter serves migrants passing through, asylum seekers, internally displaced people, deportees, and returnees from the United States and Mexico.

CARE has contributed to this mission through hygiene kits and biosecurity for people passing by its premises in Guatemala City and Tecún Umán —near the border with Mexico—, since the COVID-19 pandemic started. 

The priest Mauro Verzeletti, director of the Migrant Shelters in Guatemala and El Salvador, says: “Migrants teach us to live with very little, to dream, to not give up, and to persevere in our way ahead”. 

In Guatemala and the rest of Central America, people are forced to migrate for a wide variety of reasons, such as their economic conditions, threats, the violence of criminal structures, migrant children and teenagers seeking to reunite with their families, and also the families of migrants that have gone missing, who travel to look for them throughout the different migratory routes. 

According to Ligia Reyes, coordinator of the International Protection Program of Migrant Shelters, “violence, mainly in Honduras and El Salvador, forces people to migrate, even if they do not want to leave their homelands. It is not the American dream what moves them, but the need to survive.”

And she adds: “Everyone carries a story with them. They leave their families and their countries behind, and then suffer the desperation and stress of travelling, so it is essential to support them emotionally. Emotional stability allows them to make the best decisions, which are meaningful for their future.”

“We want everyone to learn about protective measures, and we provide guidance for that procedure”. 

Honduran Mebel Mejía and her 4-year-old son Mateo are among the people receiving support at the Migrant Shelter. 

She left Honduras in 2012, when she was only 17 years old. The insecurity and threats that she was receiving from gangs forced her to take refuge in Guatemala, where she is now trying to request asylum.

From the day she arrived, she has worked in informal sales, but she dreams to have a job that provides her with a secure livelihood and with the proper documentation, so that she does not have to live in constant fear of being deported.

“Here, I have found a place that gives me shelter. This country has welcomed me and given me protection, but I need papers to be able to fend for myself,” she says.

The Migrant Shelter faced great difficulties at the beginning of the pandemic. The restrictions on mobility imposed by the Government forced them to find other spaces for people who had to remain in quarantine and comply with the confinement.

At the beginning of the pandemic, they had to close for a month and a half. But despite that, they managed to support the immigrants who went to their door asking for help, by giving them food, a safety kit, and medical supplies.

Besides those hardships, the center has recently managed to rent a building they have been using as an annex. Every day, they welcome around 100 people between the main building and the annex. 

It is estimated that, as a result of the pandemic, one million more people will live in poverty in Guatemala, in addition to the 10 million people who already live in poverty.

This adds to the impact of the climate phenomena, since the thousands of people who lost their crops, land and other assets are forced to migrate as the only alternative to survive.

For Verzeletti, “migration cannot be restrained with words. Instead, migration is restrained with public policies, government investments, and differentiated policies for those who are poor, marginalized and excluded”.