Part two in a five-part series. Originally published on Al Jazeera on March 8, 2017
Outside a string of businesses in the city centre, a young man walks with purpose to his new job. He is from Haiti , like many who came during the Trump campaign and after Hurricane Matthew , which claimed well over 1,000 lives in the country late last year.
“Mexico offered us [Haitian refugees] to stay here, even though the US is much more rich, culturally and economically – but they don’t want to. We suffered chaos in our country after the devastating earthquake [in 2010]. Mexico allowed us in to work to help our families. The US just wants to deport us,” said the man, who asked to be called Wesley so that his interview would not affect his residency status.
In Tijuana, Wesley has a job and a shared apartment. “Mexicans accept us as humans – even with our differences,” he said. “The US should learn from Mexico how to have a heart.”
He started his journey like many Haitians – in Brazil , smuggling himself through an “impossible route”. In some cases Haitians travel through nine or 10 countries. Wesley spent about $5,000 on his journey. “It’s a lot of money. But we want a better life,” he said.
In the jungles of Colombia , many refugees such as Wesley have “seen dead Haitians – men and women – who had tried to cross. It causes great pain to see those who died.”
Wesley spoke to Al Jazeera in French. For many Haitians, French is the only language, other than their native Haitian Creole, that they speak. So coming to Mexico or the US means not only an arduous journey but a language barrier. Wesley is now learning Spanish.
There are about 3,000 to 3,500 Haitians in Tijuana alone – and another 1,000 to 1,500 in Mexicali, another border town 200 kilometres east, estimates Hugo Castro, the director of Border Angels, an organisation that delivers resources to migrants attempting to reach, or who have been deported from, the US. Some came after the hurricane in September and October 2016, but most came, he says, in April and May during Trump’s election campaign.
“It’s no coincidence it happened as Trump’s chances increased,” Castro said. “It’s the Trump effect.”
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