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Posted at: Apr 26, 2019, 9:26 AM; last updated: Apr 26, 2019, 9:26 AM (IST)

New 'House of the Refugee' gives hope to migrants in southern US

New 'House of the Refugee' gives hope to migrants in southern US
Migrant children from different Latin American wait to make travel arrangements at the Casa del Refugiado, or The House of Refugee, a new centre opened by the Annunciation House to help the large flow of migrants being released by the United States Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in El Paso, Texas on April 24, 2019. AFP

El Paso, April 26

On a freshly painted wall at the "House of the Refugee" in El Paso in the US state of Texas, a local artist writes the word "esperanza" -- "hope" in Spanish -- in an effort to bring just that to the migrants staying here.

The charitable organization Annunciation House opened the 409,027 square foot (38,000 square metre) warehouse in mid-April as an emergency measure to handle the influx of Central American families that cross the Mexican border daily, looking for asylum in the United States.

President Donald Trump's administration is struggling to manage the number of arrivals, which passed 100,000 people in March alone, half of which are families.

Trump continues to pressure Mexico to do more to stem the inflow of migrants and has pushed for the construction of a wall along the Mexico border, one of the key promises of his presidential campaign.

Most migrants surrender to border security once they cross into the US. They are placed in detention centres and undergo background checks before being released.

The House of the Refugee -- only half of which has been converted into a shelter -- can hold about 500 people, but the goal is to install up to 1,500 cots once the renovations are complete, Annunciation House executive director Father Ruben Garcia said Wednesday at a press conference.

Until now, Annunciation House had sheltered migrants in hotels, at a "prohibitive" cost.

"For a long time we used four hotels, 200 plus rooms, at USD 50 per night per room, so USD 10,000 per night," versus USD 30,000 per month for the House of the Refugee, said Garcia.

According to him, more than a thousand migrants enter the US daily in the El Paso/Las Cruces region, compared to 700 to 800 in February.

At the House of the Refugee, which is in the east of the border city, asylum-seekers have a cot, bed linens provided by the Red Cross, sanitary products, bathrooms and three meals a day.

Three months' worth of meals and rent for the House of the Refugee have been paid for by charitable organisations.

Volunteers help House of the Refugee residents contact family members or close friends who can take them in while the administration considers their asylum requests.

Since October 1, 2018, between 50,000 and 60,000 people have been released and gone to El Paso, Las Cruces or Albuquerque, New Mexico, explained Garcia, citing immigration service figures. They stay between one and six days.

"We'll call a cousin, who says, 'I will buy the bus ticket today,' and the refugee leaves the next day," he said.

"I could probably count on my hand the families that have stayed in these three cities. They're going to very diverse areas, they're not flocking" like they did during the first wave of Central American immigration in the 1980s, he added.

In his opinion, it "reflects the evolution of the immigrant population in the US, and it speaks the truth that the US is a nation of immigrants."    

"There's no reason to believe" that the people staying in the House of the Refugee "pose any kind of a risk to anyone," he said, denouncing an anti-immigrant sentiment that he believes is "the result of vilification of refugees that has been ongoing for quite some time." AFP



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