Juarez moves to limit migrants at overcrowded border shelters


Goal is to have no more than 80 people at each facility, train volunteers and set up "quarantine" sites

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — In an effort to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in migrant shelters, Juarez officials are trying to limit the number of people who can stay at each facility.

More than 1,400 migrants are calling a dozen shelters home in that city across the border from El Paso, with 65 additional migrants being sent over by U.S. authorities every day, said Irving Garcia Gutierrez, coordinator of Juarez’s Migrant Assistance Center.

The goal is to have no more than 50 to 80 migrants at any time at those facilities, he said.

“We had a meeting with stakeholders to reduce the risk of contagion and decided to take four preventive actions,” Garcia said. “The first has to do with reducing the population (at the shelters) to reduce overcrowding and provide safe distancing.”

Dirving Garcia Gutierrez, coordinator of the Migrant Assistant Center in Juarez, talks to reporters about emergency actions to keep migrants from contracting COVID-19. (Courtesy Chihuahua state government)

Chihuahua state government is working with local nonprofits and international aid organizations to “identify alternative spaces” to relocate the migrants now staying at larger facilities — mostly small Protestant churches where several families sleep in a single room.

The other actions include routing all new arrivals to a single shelter where they would be isolated for two weeks to ensure they’re not coming in sick; finding a place to monitor and treat those who are sick; and furnishing all shelters with roving trained volunteers and a supply of personal protective equipment, cleaning materials and food they may be lacking now.

The primary shelter wasn’t immediately named, but one of the primary reasons the Mexican government built a federal shelter in Central Juarez was precisely for that role. However, the shelter remained closed to new arrivals from mid-December to late February due to a measles outbreak. It only recently reopened.

“We want to procure the necessary resources during this health contingency and not rely on the Ministry of Health. The intention is to equip these shelters to monitor new arrivals, take vital signs and identify suspicious cases” of COVID-19 or other illnesses, Garcia said.

So far this year, Juarez has recorded the arrival of 5,212 migrants. A total of 1,305 were sent over by U.S. authorities in the first three weeks of March alone, according to the local office of the Mexican National Immigration Institute (INM).

Some of the stakeholders working on the plan include the state of Chihuahua, the International Organization for Migration, the Agnur Foundation and the Mexican Red Cross, among others.

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