Sr. Kathleen M. O’Riordan writes about the impact of the pandemic and the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy on thousands of migrants left waiting along the Mexican border, many without money, food or the possibility to work. This article was first published in the May/June 2021 issue of the Far East magazine.

In his message for World Refugee Day 2020 Pope Francis called for “eyes and hearts to open to action by recognising, contemplating and sharing the life of refugees, internally displaced persons, and migrants”. This invitation touched me and challenged me.

I have been privileged and blessed to serve in the Casa del Migrante, house of refuge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for the past year sharing life with so many people fleeing from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Brazil and Mexico. Like most people the Coronavirus pandemic caught me totally unprepared and the lockdown came suddenly.

At that moment there were more than 200 people in the house, women, men and children of all ages. The restrictions imposed in order to protect and prevent the spread of the virus presented many new challenges. Volunteers could no longer come to help and some staff had to take time out because of other health conditions. Then the Trump administration suspended all immigration court hearings in El Paso and closed the US/Mexican border, so our people were literally stranded ‘on a road going nowhere’. This caused a lot of anxiety and desperation as no one had a future date for a court hearing and most were already many months waiting. This so-called ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy left thousands of migrants waiting indefinitely in the cities and towns along the Mexican border, many without money, food or the possibility to work.

At the same time the US administration continued to deport people including many Mexicans who had worked for years in the US, without any medical attention or testing for Covid-19. They were left “over the bridge” to fend for themselves in very precarious circumstances. A light that shone in the darkness was the generosity and solidarity of the ordinary people from both sides of the border who supplied food, clothing and many gestures of comfort and love that kept a spark of hope alive.

The pandemic travel restrictions did not deter people from fleeing violence, poverty, extortions, kidnappings and natural disasters. The destruction caused by two hurricanes in Honduras forced thousands of people to set out on the perilous journey north. There was no other option for them…they had lost everything except hope. The end of the Trump era and the election of President Joe Biden gave them new hope to seek refugee status. May that hope become a reality.

In whatever situation we find ourselves in, we too can be carriers of hope for others, May our faith sustain us in these uncertain times and help us to know that a loving and caring God walks with His people. And may the Faith and resilience of migrants/refugees continue to inspire us to make our “common home” a better place for all God’s children.

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Preview the May/June issue of the Far East from which this article was taken.

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