Migrants run low on cleaning supplies at border shelters, worry about catching COVID-19

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Shortages brought about by panic-buying have affected donations at facilities housing families in "Remain in Mexico" program

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Migrant shelters in this Mexican border city worry about a possible new humanitarian crisis, as they’re running out of basic supplies such as diapers, toilet paper and cleaning materials.

The shortages coincide with panic buying on both sides of the border and come at a time when health authorities are recommending strict hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly in common-use areas and places where large numbers of people gather.

“We are low on toilet paper, shampoo, towels […] paper plates and cups, detergent. We are giving each family a roll of paper each, but in the case of large families, this doesn’t last too long,” said Martha Alicia Esquivel, coordinator of Good Samaritan shelter in West Juarez. Most of the guests are asylum seekers sent to Mexico by U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.

The Methodist church-run facility houses 108 people and depends on donations, especially from Protestant churches in the United States, to survive. The donations have dropped dramatically in the past week as both Americans and Juarez residents stockpile cleaning items for themselves.

The Central and South American migrants inside the shelter said they only have a vague idea of the dangers posed by COVID-19, but they worry about what will happen if the virus spreads to the shelter.

“What little we know is what we hear on the news,” said Edwin V., a farmhand fleeing crime and underemployment in El Salvador. “This is a disease that spreads when good hygiene is not practiced, and without toilet paper and water … without good hygiene we are at risk.”

Esquivel said she is aware that the coronavirus poses a big risk at the shelter, where several families share four large rooms.

“We are doing the best we can. We have volunteer crews that sweep the patio, disinfect the floors and common areas and so far no one has gotten sick,” Esquivel said. “But we don’t restrict their movement. We open the doors at 5 a.m. so some of them can go to work. If others want to go out, we don’t stop them. They come from places where they have no freedom, so we are not going to keep them captive here, too.”

At Casa del Migrante, the city’s largest non-government shelter, administrators expect to run out of toilet paper and cleaning supplies very soon.

“We are concerned and we ask that the community continues to support our work in these times of need,” said shelter spokeswoman Blanca Rivera.

The shelter run by a Catholic priest has a budget for operations but it’s still trying to recover from unanticipated expenses brought about by the migrant surge from October 2018 to June of last year, when the population swelled to over 800. The facility is still at its 400-person capacity because the U.S. government continues to place detained migrants on MPP, or the “Remain in Mexico” program and Brazilian families are arriving in greater numbers now.

Families pass the time in one of the common areas at Good Samaritan migrant shelter in Juarez, Mexico. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

At Leona Vicario, the one federal government shelter in Juarez, a medical protocol is in place since last week to screen all new arrivals for flu-like symptoms, said shelter spokesman Pedro Torres. The migrants are questioned about their recent travel and medical history and those that are deemed at risk are given a surgical mask to wear. The federal shelter on Monday held 443 migrants.

Back at Good Samaritan, migrant families washed clothes, played board games and shared their cellphones so others could text relatives in their home countries. The chatter was that, in addition to possibly catching COVID-19, preventive actions in the United States would delay their asylum cases.

“We’re afraid they will close the courts and postpone our hearings. That means we’ll have to spend more time here, in Mexico, living in uncertainty. We don’t know our future because we’re over here, in limbo,” Edwin V. said.

To contact Good Samaritan from the United States dial (011-52) 656-345-2699. To contact Casa del Migrante, call (011-52) 656-422-3088.

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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