At the height of Central America’s migrant crisis, tens of thousands of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras fled to the United States border, desperately seeking refuge from brutal violence and unbearable poverty. In 2016 alone, nearly 47,000 unaccompanied children (and more than 70,000 families) arrived from these countries with little more than the clothes on their back. Often overlooked, however, have been the smaller numbers of Haitian migrants in search of a safe-haven. In Mexico -- just as they have been doing for Central American refugees -- our Salesian missionaries are offering them crucial humanitarian aid and social support.
Having endured a three-month journey trekking through several countries beginning in Brazil, these men, women and children arrive in Tijuana exhausted, hungry, cold and often ill. In response, our missionaries have hosted nearly 500 of these refugees at one time in a shelter designed to serve only 80. The shelter is part of a larger Salesian-run center called Desayundor Salesiano.
“We couldn’t turn them away,” says Father Mike Pace, who serves in Tijuana. “So we dressed and fed them as best we could.” In total, as many as 5,000 Haitians have sought services at the shelter during the past year. Many of them had hoped to gain residency in the United States, but that goal has proven difficult and about 70 Haitian refugees are living at the shelter while they await their fate. Complicating their journeys is the fact that they do not speak the local language (unlike most of their Central American counterparts).
“To do this, they need local, knowledgeable help,” explains Fr. Mike. “The language barrier makes it difficult to navigate bureaucracy, find housing and advocate for themselves. We help them build a bridge to their new lives so that they don’t end up living on the streets, at risk for trafficking and abuse.”
Each day, Salesian missionaries and dedicated volunteers serve as many as 1,200 meals to Haitian and Central American migrants at Desayundor Salesiano’s cafeteria. Warm showers, clean clothes and free telephone calls are also available -- as is medical care. Three young Haitian men were so moved by the help they received from the Salesians that they have joined the center’s staff in order to pay this kindness forward to other migrants and refugees.
Refugees and migrants are among the most vulnerable people in the world, with children making up a large percentage of those in need.
Our mission brings hope and dignity to those fleeing poverty and violence around the globe. What’s your mission?