As an organization we have been watching the refugee/asylum seeker situation at the U.S/Mexico border for some time. As humanitarians we are always on the lookout for situations that need a medical response and the current happenings down south have not escaped our attention. We’ve also noticed that the reports of the situation vary widely depending on which media coverage you listen to. It’s no surprise that media coverage is not an accurate representation of the situation, as this is a common theme seen in all sectors of the humanitarian world and often the best (and only) way to understand the ground situation is to do just that- be on the ground. As such, I personally went to Matamoros to see the situation first hand.
So why now? Why not 6 months ago?
In July of this year the U.S Government announced a change to the asylum program. The change stated that Asylum seekers would no longer be allowed to enter the United States while awaiting the trial for their asylum status, termed “Remain in Mexico Policy”. Why does this change things so significantly? A few reasons. Resettlement programs for Refugees/Asylum Seekers already exist within the United States. These organizations are well staffed and trained to help refugees/AS find family, affordable housing, jobs, etc. Since the days of Ellis Island, the U.S has been known as the “melting pot” of cultures and as such we have existing programs to welcome refugees into the United States and help them find success in their new home. So prior to this change, refugees had a fair amount of resources to utilize once they crossed into the United States. To include healthcare.
The problem now, is that these refugees are having to wait at the border until their trial can be heard in court. And that can sometimes take months- if not years. So what do they do in the mean time? They camp out. Similar to the situations that we saw in Bangladesh with the Rohingyan people, the refugees/Asylum Seekers who are fleeing violence and extreme poverty in Central and South America are unlikely to go back. Some may, and reports from local initiatives are that some are turning around. But many (IE: an estimated 40,000) are not leaving.
So what did we find in Matamoros? 750 asylum seekers living in a small isolated space right next to the border crossing. And more are coming everyday. Multiple families were crowded into coleman tents that had been donated by local churches. Babies were beginning to show the signs of being malnourished. The only drinking water, toilet and wash station, was the Rio Grande. We saw babies with chronic eye infections, likely to loose vision when they are older from lack of treatment. Jaundice from Taenia. Chicken Pox. Pregnant women with no prenatal care. Malnourished infants and children. Severe Dental Caries. Upper Respiratory Infections. Contact Dermatitis. Severe Dyshidrotic Eczema. We saw parents “pre-chewing” adult food for infants who were too young to eat solid foods. Severe fungal infections. The list goes on… and on… and on.
The stories are heartbreaking and they just keep coming. Regardless of any personal feelings regarding the political status of immigrants, refugees and/or asylum seekers, the connotation behind, “Semper Vitae” is that we put the humanity of life before all else. Before politics. Before religion. Before borders.
So we feel compelled to act.
We’ve been on the ground in Matamoros and know what is needed of us. Now we need you. We plan to send weekly medical teams into the field with the local non-profit (Team Brownsville) doing food distribution to help do basic medicine and first aid. We are still in the early phases of planning and looking for funding. We can even use non-medical personnel who are needed to help with food distributions. But the take away here is- we need all the help we an get- and we need to act now. If you’re interested in volunteering send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org