Sharing solidarity in Tapachula, among migrants stranded on the border between Mexico and Guatemala

Young people of Sant’Egidio in Central America running a day centre for minors

Tapachula is a Mexican city in Chiapas, in the extreme south of the state, close to the border with Guatemala and the Pacific Ocean. It is at the foot of a volcano known as El Tacaná with a population of around 300,000 inhabitants. The name of the city comes from Tapacholatl, which in Nahuatl language means “submerged land”. The economy of the city is mainly agricultural, in particular there are coffee, bananas and mangoes plantations.

Since the end of 2018, caravans have arrived here with thousands of Central American migrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua waiting for the reopening of passages to the north.

Since last September, thousands of Haitians and Africans from Angola, Mali, Central African Republic and Congo have also arrived, using this new route with the Latin Americans. They are all waiting for the chance to go to the USA. They stay in Tapachula as it is warmer: the climate is always mild and they feel in an environment more similar to their countries of origin, but the living conditions remain unsustainable.

Many migrants live on the streets, some are locked up in detention centres for weeks or months waiting for the Mexican authorities to give them residence or transit documents. Tapachula is nicknamed the southern “Tijuana” comparing it to Tijuana, the Mexican city bordering the US’s largest landmark migration routes.

In the face of the difficult situation of migrants, the Community of Sant'Egidio has organised a mission to provide aid and support to the most vulnerable groups, particularly children, many of whom are unaccompanied.

From the 12 February, more than 80 young people from the Communities of Sant'Egidio in Central America from El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras have started a day centre for minors providing free educational activities, games and school support together with psychological care and befriending.

The day centre will provide two main meals per day, with children’s hygiene taken care of. Above all, the centre wants to be a place of serenity, open to families, where to forge bonds of friendship by offering support in their difficult journey and stay in touch if they decide to return to their countries of origin. The presence among volunteers of young educators Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan as well as Mexican represents a very important added value: they help minors and families to understand more carefully the risks of the terrible journey. They also act as reference points for communicating with the families of migrants in their countries of origin, and seek to build aid networks to prevent so many children from experiencing a terrible human tragedy.