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TIJUANA, April 1 (Reuters) – Hundreds of Ukrainians are camping in the Mexican border town of Tijuana hoping to seek asylum in the United States.
Many Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their home country have flown to the US-Mexico border hoping authorities will allow them to enter so they can reunite with American relatives or friends.
People are sprawled on blankets and lawn chairs next to stuffed suitcases on a patch of grass near the international port of entry. Some sleep in tents and under tarpaulins.
American volunteers in fluorescent vests – some Ukrainian-Americans who traveled to Tijuana after hearing about the arrival of refugees – collect names on a handwritten waiting list to track arrivals.
While some 600 Ukrainians are camping near the border entrance, about 500 others are staying in hotels in the city, said Enrique Lucero, director of migration affairs for Tijuana, citing the list maintained by volunteers. About 40% of the population are children, he added.
Lucero said around 100 Ukrainians were allowed to enter the United States daily. US Customs and Border Protection said data on the number of Ukrainians entering the United States in March will be available in coming weeks.
The number of people on the southwestern border is still small compared to the more than 3.8 million Ukrainians who have fled to neighboring European countries since the February 24 invasion, which the Russian government calls a “military operation special”.
In response to the exodus – Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II – US President Joe Biden pledged last week to accept some 100,000 Ukrainians into the United States through various legal channels. Read more
But some families desperate to leave have had to travel through a series of countries to the southern border, having been denied US visas or told to wait at US embassies abroad.
While Ukrainians and Russians arrived at the US-Mexico border before the conflict broke out, people are now arriving “very quickly”, said Julia Neusner, a lawyer for the human rights group Aim. New York-based nonprofit. L2N2V61WR
On average, Ukrainians wait about a day from the time they are put on the list compiled by volunteers until they can enter the United States, Neusner said.
Two weeks ago, according to a Reuters witness, about 15 Ukrainians a day arrived at the Tijuana border and were immediately reported. Read more
As Ukrainians are smuggled into the United States, US border agents have told Russians, Mexicans, Central Americans and migrants from other countries to stay put, citing a pandemic-era border deportation policy known as Title 42 which closed the US-Mexico border. to most asylum seekers.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced it would end the deportation policy at the end of May, as US health officials said it was no longer needed to protect public health. Read more
Inna Levien, 42 – from Belarus – said she and other Russian-speaking members of her mothers’ group in Orange County, California, traveled to Tijuana earlier this week to help Ukrainian refugees , many of whom speak Russian.
She said there was no running water at a local bus stop where women and children were sleeping and children were getting sick.
“Vomiting, diarrhea, they’re so stressed, they’re dehydrated,” she said. “They have this restlessness inside.”
A six-year-old girl told Levien she was praying for her father who stayed behind to defend Ukraine because it was his “job” to be its “guardian angel”.
Valentina Shymanveska, a 56-year-old from war-torn Kharkiv, Ukraine, was grateful to be received in Tijuana after her city was hit by constant Russian bombardment.
“I couldn’t cry in Ukraine. I even thank you for my tears,” she said. “For this place, this food and the dream of living until [Ukraine’s] victory.”
Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City and Jorge Dueñes in Tijuana; Additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, Aurora Ellis and Christian Schmollinger
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