Migration is a Human Right

Written by Sera Bonds, CEO and Founder, Circle of Health Intl.

Since the beginning of civilization, humans have migrated. We’ve done this to follow food to keep our families fed, to join in industrialization to expand opportunities for our children, to escape wars to keep our children safe, to find a safe place to pray to show our children God, and to follow the water to keep our children from knowing thirst.

While humans are constantly on the move, certain groups tend to attract attention more than others when they leave one land for another — usually poor, marginalized, non-white humans. We’re witnessing one of those moments now, as a large group of immigrants fleeing violence in their home countries is being greeted with violence by the country they hoped would protect them.

Circle of Health International (COHI)has been monitoring the caravan of Central American refugees and is investigating the most effective ways we can support the brave families attempting to become our newest citizens. The US/Mexico border response strongly resembles the 2016 Greece response we were involved with, as we provided care for mostly Middle Eastern refugees and asylum seekers. It was chaotic, dangerous, and underfunded. This one, sadly, looks too similar.

There are several formal and informal groups organizing to provide supplies, legal counsel, health care, and transportation. This, while also well-intended, is messy. This kind of ad-hoc approach often breeds inefficiency, territorial issues, and wasteful resource practices, and rarely includes the members of the impacted community themselves in identifying and organizing the response. Too often these responses are led by well-intended outsiders who want to help but do so in a patronizing manner.

As of this writing, there are over 5,000 refugees on the Tijuana side of the border. The vast majority are being housed at the Benito Juarez Stadium, a public facility that is being insufficiently served by municipal authorities and is currently closed to health care services and legal counsel.

Hundreds of other refugees are housed in several small shelters in the area that are currently housing between 150–250 residents, as best we can tell. They have traveled a long distance and many of them are sick or pregnant and nursing women that need health care. Each shelter is served by local physicians 1–2 times per week. They, of course, would like more doctors and they need prescription medications for colds and the flu especially.

We are also hearing that the LGBTQ refugees who traveled with the caravan have been targeted with violence. Therefore, they have been separated and sheltered in a different facility from the rest of the caravan members. These courageous souls deserve a safe, secure area to wait for what happens next, and COHI is in conversation with local groups as we try to find a way to assist.

What we are trying to do along the US/Mexico border is what we always try to do in these situations: hear from the women and children themselves as to what they need, and then identify the gaps in response activities and fill those gaps. Sounds simple, yes, but it’s really pretty complicated and very messy. With no coordinating body, we are having trouble even identifying the groups (formal and non) involved with the response. There is no oversight and therefore no repercussions for the response community to ensure that we are being ethical, thoughtful, and following international best standards. Add to that the hostility from the U.S. government: throwing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets at children. It’s all very dangerous stuff.

Migration is a right for every human on this planet. Over the last 14 years, COHI has worked along many borders, both agreed upon and contested. We have helped mothers and children navigate both the seen barriers like walls and oceans, and unseen like racism and fear as they cross borders seeking safety. We take this work very seriously and we continue it now, searching for optimal ways to support caravan members. We welcome you to join us in showing that THIS is what America looks like, that we are welcoming with open arms the tired, the sick, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free..