The plight of Black asylum-seekers at the border is becoming dire as accommodations become crowded and resources are depleted.
Immigration attorney Rebecca Alemayehu co-created a GoFundMe page for Eritrean and Ethiopian migrants after her work led her to the border on the weekend before Christmas 2018. She had volunteered regularly with Central American and Mexican aslyum seekers prior. However, when she arrived this time, she saw faces she never expected to see.
“This time it was different,” Alemayehu told Blavity in an email. “I was shocked to see Habeshas (Eritreans and Ethiopians) at the border and in large numbers. While walking in Tijuana, I bumped into two Habesha asylum seekers. The way their faces lit up when they saw me, someone who looked like them, someone who could understand them is something I will never forget until this day. They informed me they had been in Tijuana for months, were running out of food, and did not have any more money for a place to stay.”
In the words of an African asylum seeker at the border: “We’ve been suffering for two months. We have nothing to eat. We’re sick. Everything is finished.”They need our help! The funds raised are not enough to cover everyone. We must keep pushing.Please donate and spread the word.— rebecca_esq (@EsqRebecca) July 16, 2019
The U.S.-Mexico border is experiencing an influx of asylum-seekers from the African diaspora. According to The New York Times, more than 700 African people have been detained at the border since October 2018. In comparison, a mere 25 Africans were arrested by ICE between 2007 and 2018. Like their Latin American counterparts, they are dealing with harsh conditions.
The crisis is being exacerbated by the lack of resources to accommodate the surge and a slow asylum process. Black asylum-seekers experience a unique set of problems during their journey.
“When you think about what is going on at the border, you are thinking of Central Americans,” Alemayehu explained. “You are not thinking of black migrants. We turn on the news and see kids in cages, only to realize it is our kids, too. We hear reports of asylum seekers waiting at the border and do not realize it is our community, too.”
A cultural and language barrier makes communication difficult for the migrants, many of whom speak French, Amharic, Tigrinya and Portuguese. Alemayehu hopes the fund will alleviate some of the strain. She is working with The Habesha Dream and Haitian Bridge Alliance to render emergency aid.
“Most black asylum seekers have remained hidden in Tijuana,” Alemayehu continued. “They have not tapped into many of the resources available to Central American and Mexican asylum seekers. These obstacles are worse for black migrants who are particularly vulnerable because language and cultural barriers make it difficult to access humanitarian assistance and service providers. This Emergency Humanitarian Assistance Fund was created to provide a systemic response to meet their needs.”
The fight at the U.S.-Mexico border is the latest leg of a grueling journey from Africa. A report from Foreign Policy explained many refugees choose to go to the United States instead of Europe, where they risk being deported to detention camps in war-torn Libya. Some migrants don’t even make it to the European Union’s camps. Instead, they are kidnapped by smugglers who expose them to human trafficking or make them phone relatives to ask for ransom money.
Feben Amare, an Eritrean, was forced to make those phone calls and lived in squalid conditions after she was kidnapped. She was also used as a sex slave by her abductors and watched other women be sold to smugglers who operate at other locations.
“The warehouse had no windows and toilets,” Amare told Foreign Policy. “People slept, ate, and went to the toilet all in the same closed space. Many fell sick, and many died every other day. There were days when I’d wake up to see the person sleeping next to me dead. We would just wait with the body next to us till the smugglers would come and take the body away.”
The U.S.-Mexico border isn’t an enjoyable experience either, but Alemayehu’s work may make it a little easier. Sadly, she’s starting to see an unsettling change among the migrants.
“On Sunday, I saw something I had never seen before -- hope diminishing from the population with many asylum seekers arriving and so little resources to provide,” she said. “However, this has not stopped our determination. We will keep fighting and raising funds to provide humanitarian assistance… because if we do not, then who will?”
The attorney will continue to hold onto hope because this cause is personal.
“My father was an asylum seeker,” she told Blavity. “This issue hits different for me. For most of us, our parents and some of us came to this country with a dollar and a dream. We cannot forget that. We cannot forget how we felt when we were in their very same position.”
Head here to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign in support of Habesha migrants at the border.