TIHUANA, Mexico (AP) – The United States has sharply increased the number of Ukrainians admitted to the country on its border with Mexico as more refugees fleeing the Russian invasion follow the same detour.
According to city officials, on Thursday the state recreation center in the Mexican border town of Tijuana grew to 1,000 refugees. The canopy, under which the children had played football only two days earlier, was filled with people in rows of chairs and left with bunk beds.
Tijuana has suddenly become an end point for Ukrainians seeking asylum in the United States, where they are attracted to friends and family willing to accept them, and they are confident that the United States will be a more suitable asylum than Europe.
Social networks are rapidly spreading information that a free volunteer coalition, mostly from Slavic churches in the western United States, is sending hundreds of refugees from Tijuana airport to temporary shelters every day, waiting two to four days for US officials to allow them to accept. . on parole. In less than two weeks, volunteers worked with U.S. and Mexican officials to build an extremely efficient and expanding network to provide food, security, transportation, and housing.
U.S. officials on Wednesday began directing Ukrainians to the pedestrian crossing in San Diego, which is temporarily closed to visitors, hoping to handle 578 people a day with 24 officers, said Enrique Lucera, director of migrant affairs in Tijuana.
Vlad Fedoryshyn, a volunteer with access to the waiting list, said on Thursday that the United States had treated 620 Ukrainians in 24 hours, while about 800 people arrived in Tijuana every day. Volunteers say the United States used to host several hundred Ukrainians daily.
The CBP has not given figures in response to questions about operations and plans for the past two days, saying only that it has expanded facilities in San Diego to handle humanitarian cases.
On Thursday, Ukrainians steadily came and left the busy recreation center, raising large suitcases. Some wore winter coats in off-season warm weather.
The Tijuana camp, which held hundreds of Ukrainians near the busiest border crossing with the United States, was dismantled. The refugees went to recreation centers, churches and hotels to wait.
Volunteers wearing blue and yellow badges representing the Ukrainian flag but not having a name or group leader created a waiting list in notebooks and later switched to a mobile app commonly used to track church attendance. Ukrainians are ordered to appear at the US border crossing, when their number is approaching, the organizers of the system compare with waiting for a table in a restaurant.
“We feel so happy, so happy,” said Tatiana Bondarenko, who has traveled to Moldova, Romania, Austria and Mexico before arriving in San Diego with her husband and children aged 8, 12 and 15. Her final destination was Sacramento, California. , living with a mother she hasn’t seen in 15 years.
Another Ukrainian family posed nearby for photos under the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the port of San Isidro in San Diego, the busiest crossing between the United States and Mexico. Volunteers under a blue canopy offered snacks while the refugees waited for their family to pick them up, or buses that would take them to a nearby church.
At Tijuana Airport, weary travelers arriving in Mexico as tourists to Mexico City or Cancun are directed to a makeshift hall in a terminal with a black marker that reads, “Only for Ukrainian refugees.” This is the only place to register for entry into the United States
On Tuesday, the waiting list was 973 families or single adults.
“We realized we had a problem that the government wasn’t going to solve, so we solved it,” said Phil Metzger, pastor of Calvary Church in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista, where about 75 members host Ukrainian families and more. 100 refugees sleep on air mattresses and benches.
Metzger, whose pastoral work has led him to Ukraine and Hungary, calls the operation “sticky tape and glue,” but refugees prefer it to overcrowded European countries with millions of Ukrainians.
The Biden administration has said it will accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians, but Mexico is the only route that produces large quantities. Meetings at US consulates in Europe are few, and the resettlement of refugees takes time.
The administration has set up a cap to resettle refugees of 125,000 for the 12-month period ending September 30, but took only 8,758 to March 31, including 704 Ukrainians. In the previous year, he limited the resettlement of refugees to 62,500, but accepted only 11,411, including 803 Ukrainians.
The administration has released more than 76,000 Afghans through U.S. airports in response to the withdrawal of U.S. troops last year, but nothing similar is happening to Ukrainians. Parole, which provides temporary protection from deportation, is usually granted for two years for Afghans and one year for Ukrainians.
Oksana Dugnik, 36, was hesitant to leave her home in Bucha, but agreed to her husband’s wish before Russian troops stormed the city and left the streets littered with corpses. The couple worried about the violence in Mexico with their three young children, but the active presence of volunteers in Tijuana reassured them, and a friend from Ohio agreed to accept them.
“We have food. We have a place to stay, ”Dugnik said a day after arriving at the Tijuana recreation center, where hundreds of people slept on the basketball court. “We hope all is well.”
Warned through text messages or social networks, Ukrainians are called to the border crossing when their numbers are approaching.
The arrival of Ukrainians comes at a time when the Biden administration is preparing for a much larger number, when May 23 will end restrictions on asylum for all nationalities related to the pandemic. Since March 2020, the United States has used its powers under Section 42, designated under the Health Care Act of 1944, to suspend rights. seek asylum in accordance with US law and an international treaty.
Metzger, pastor of Chula Vista, said his church could not continue to work 24 hours a day providing assistance to refugees, and suspected that U.S. authorities would not accept what the volunteers did.
“If you do something smooth, everyone will come,” he said. “We do it so easily. In the end, I’m sure they’ll say, “No, we’re done.”