For Central and South American migrants, the journey through Mexico is a notoriously dangerous one. Migrants are often robbed, beaten or sexually assaulted. Gang members and the Mexican police are often the perpetrators. The migrants spend long hours walking, and can suffer dangerous falls from atop the infamous train “La Bestia,” all of which takes an extreme physical and psychological toll. In Mexico, safe houses organized by churches and members of the public have popped up in response to this, supplying migrants with food, medical attention and a safe place to stay for 24 hours.
These houses, such as ABBA, A.C. house, started in November 2014 by Pastor Ignacio Martinez Ramírez in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico, strive to provide the migrants with psychological support, legal support and most importantly, dignity. These safe houses are a window into a migrant’s journey and into the consequences of migration policies held by the United States and Mexico.
On the banner hung above the courtyard, is printed ABBA house’s motto “Por la dignidad del migrante,” which translates to “for the dignity of the migrant.” Pastor Ignacio, who runs the house, arrived late to our scheduled interview because he was testifying at an immigrant abuse case.
According to Consultorios MSF (Médicos sin Fronteras, which translates to “Doctors without borders”), there are approximately 51 migrant safe houses in Mexico. Most only allow people 24 hours to stay, ABBA house allows for 72 hours.
Before ABBA House, Pastor Ignacio would pass out food along the train tracks many migrants follow to go north. Now, cans of food, bags of beans, rice and palettes of water line the pantry of ABBA house .
ABBA house is also swapping out their cloth mattresses for blue mats, which are easier to keep clean for the 120 people they can easily fit, though they’ve received up to 237 migrants in a single day.
According to Pastor Ignacio, migrants come from Guatemala, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and the majority are from Honduras. Migrants from these countries are often refugees fleeing violence and economic depression.
A courtyard is at the center of the ABBA house. Often, the younger migrants who are also making the journey, are able to take a break and play soccer in the house’s courtyard.
There are is a television in the migrant house. On the TV, migrants watch videos describing the dangers of the journey ahead of them.
Often times single women, children, families and pregnant women make the journey north.
According to Pastor Ignacio, two to three families arrive at the house each month.
The International Red Cross supplies ABBA house with prosthetic limbs and medicine–the doctor at the house is a volunteer. However, Pastor Ignacio still worries about losing vital aid.
The house tries to accommodate recently disabled migrants who’ve been injured during the tumult of their journey. Gangrene–a type of tissue death caused mostly by bacteria or lack of blood flow–and dangerous falls from the train “La Bestia” claim the most limbs.
Migrants are also often in need of psychological help. This need is detected through a registration interview. According to Pastor Ignacio, four out of every ten migrants need psychological help.
During their journey, migrants are often arrested for no clear reason, robbed and beaten by police. Migrants and safe houses also worry about threats from local gangs.
ABBA house has been outfitted with cameras for the migrants’ security. House rules allow migrants out only twice a day.
Mexico’s migrant safe houses are now faced with a new problem. Minors brought to the U.S. at a young age are being deported to countries that are now foreign to them. ABBA house plans on opening its doors to these deportees and working with them on a case by case basis. However, the path forward is still unclear.
As the banner championing migrant’s dignity hangs overhead, I ask Pastor Ignacio what he would want the international community to know about these migrants. Ignacio answers; “that they are people like us, with rights, and dreams of a better life, and to create opportunities for their families.”