Tijuana, Mexico – As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, hundreds of Ukrainian refugees continue to arrive at the US-Mexico border in hopes of getting protection in the United States.
The US exempted Ukrainians from a policy that effectively bars most asylum seekers from having their claims heard at the border. On March 24, President Joe Biden also announced that his administration would take in as many as 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war.
Days later, an influx of Ukrainians arrived in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.
For a little more than a week, an outdoor encampment outside Tijuana’s “Garita” bus terminal had provided temporary assistance to the Ukrainian refugees arriving every day. Volunteers from California kept the site running, providing people with essentials: food, water, tents, blankets, and portable toilets; a medic was also on site.
They established a makeshift registration system, as well, in an effort to make the process as easy as possible – first taking down names on a yellow notepad and assigning each person a number in the order they arrived, before moving the list to an online platform.
“We have volunteers at the airport providing people with a bar code so they can get on the list the moment they get off the plane,” said Inna Levine, one of the lead volunteers.
From the encampment, the numbers were called in groups of 15 to 20 people. A volunteer then guided the group to Tijuana’s San Ysidro port of entry with the US. Volunteers say that on average, refugees waited between 45 minutes to two hours at the port of entry until US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents allowed them through the gates and into the country.
With the number of arrivals increasing and fears the border crossing could be shut amid the influx, Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero opened up the Benito Juarez sports complex on April 2 to house people. “This action is a preventive measure to avoid people congregating near the San Ysidro Port of Entry,” Caballero said, as reported by local media.
Local media outlet Uniradio Informa reported on Wednesday that the refugees had left the bus terminal encampment, with many of the 2,300 Ukrainians remaining in Tijuana relocating to the sports complex.