~by David Agren, Catholic News Service
Matamoros, Mexico – When Sr. Norma Pimentel used to query the needs of asylum seekers in a tent camp along the Rio Grande in this Mexican border city, they asked for supplies such as utensils and blankets. Now when she speaks with them they voice fears for their safety and ask about an exit.
“We’re moving to a more desperate situation: ‘Get me out of here, I am afraid for my child,’” she said they tell her.
Residents of Dignity Village – populated by asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico as their cases proceed in US courts, part of the Migrant Protection Protocols plan – have endured everything from cold snaps to hurricanes, from rats and snakes to vermin infestation, and from criminal gangs to kidnapping them to the COVID-19 pandemic. But fear has gripped the camp in recent weeks as at least seven individuals have been found murdered in an area where camp residents used to wash and bathe.
“It’s hard to know (what’s happening) because the authorities are not saying and they’re not identifying the person(s)” said Sr. Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus and Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. “It’s dangerous and everyone wants out.”
As time drags on, desperation sets in, especially as the temporary tents residents use become battered by the elements – Hurricane Hanna stormed through in August nearly flooding them out – and the COVID-19 pandemic postpones their US court appearance for the foreseeable future.
There’s nothing in sight that can really move them forward…They have endured months of hardship and COVID-19 doesn’t make it any easier,” said Pimentel.
The camp’s population has dwindled to less than 1,000 residents, roughly a third of its peak occupancy. Some of the camp’s residents are also attempting to cross the Rio Grande into the United States – a risky proposition. The river has deceptively strong currents and organized crime demands a payment to attempt the crossing.
Pimentel often deals with Mexican immigration officials, taking requests from residents to them for consideration. She also listens to petitions, such as the pleas of a group of pregnant women, who were wondering if US officials would expedite their hearings. For all the desperation, she said, many have not given up hope on reaching the United States for one simple reason: “They can’t return to their countries.”