Migrants seek safety through information on websites and newspaper

Migrants and asylum seekers heading north towards the Mexico-US border are a particularly vulnerable group of people. They find themselves in unknown lands, with no friends or family to turn to, they are unprotected from criminals and traffickers, and they must deal with complicated rules and regulations that can change from day to day. other.

They need information and advice, which is why a group of Mexican and American journalists founded El Migrante, a six-page monthly newspaper filled with practical advice, useful telephone numbers and advice on how migrants can exercise their rights.

Why we wrote this

Migrants seeking safety in the United States undertake dangerous journeys to reach the border; journalists-humanitarians publish a newspaper to advise them on how to protect themselves.

There are smartphone apps and Facebook pages that do the same sort of thing, answering questions directly and helping migrants filter out authentic information from the storm of fake news and misleading rumors swirling the internet.

“I want to know how to navigate this maze,” one migrant told Karla Castillo Medina, founder of El Migrante. His project, and others like it, help migrants make informed decisions that keep them safe. According to Monica Vázquez, an official with the UN refugee agency, “information is protection”.

Tijuana, Mexico

Karla Castillo Medina goes door to door at the migrant shelter, delivering newspapers like an old-fashioned journalist.

“Good afternoon! Anyone home? I’m just dropping off your newspaper here,” she shouts as she slips in the latest issue of El Migrante, a six-page newsletter for migrants and to the refugees, under the shutters of the tents and the doors of the improvised rooms made of thick blankets.

The monthly diary contains information migrants can use to keep them safe on their dangerous journeys, such as contacts for safe places to sleep, legal aid organizations and soup kitchens, as well as organization profiles NGOs and other relevant migrants.

Why we wrote this

Migrants seeking safety in the United States undertake dangerous journeys to reach the border; journalists-humanitarians publish a newspaper to advise them on how to protect themselves.

“Information is protection,” says Monica Vázquez, Mexico lead for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

El Migrante has been set up over the past three years by local journalist Ms Castillo and her colleagues from the international non-profit organization Internews. It is one of many initiatives – online and in print – that have sprung up in recent years to provide vulnerable migrants heading to the United States with often life-saving information about their rights, where they can apply help and what’s new with an ever-changing frontier. Strategies.

International law gives migrants the right to seek asylum outside their country of origin, and Mexican law offers some supports, but most need help learning to exercise these rights.

From TikTok legal aid video explainers to migration-specific Facebook pages and moderated WhatsApp groups, more and more organizations are stepping up to try to bridge the information gaps that exist between governments, border patrols , human traffickers and migrants.

News they can use

The air stagnates in a small room at the back of the shelter. Six bunk beds cover every inch of wall space; the only decoration, a metallic blue balloon in the shape of the number three, bows sadly towards the center of the room.

Mrs Castillo introduces herself and asks the group living here, mostly women, if they have heard of El Migrante. She gets a mixed response.

“If you want the latest news, you can join our WhatsApp group,” she tells them. This is where the Internews team will answer migrants’ questions and direct them to reliable resources in real time. But not towards the traffickers – if someone publishes an article about the illegal crossing of the American border, they are expelled from the group.

“It’s dangerous and I’m afraid for them,” said Jesse Hardman, Ms. Castillo’s American colleague. “We can’t stop it, but they won’t learn how to do it in our group. Our goal is for people to rely on safe channels of information.

A woman reaches for a paper and flips through an article titled “What’s up with Headline 42?” The Trump-era rule came into effect with the arrival of COVID-19 and has closed the border for the past two years, keeping everyone in this room in a waiting pattern.

“The border reopens at the end of May,” said a man.

Nanira, who fled violent threats in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero five months ago, reads the latest edition of El Migrante while preparing dinner at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, on 28 April 2022.

“Someone told me it wasn’t,” said a woman sitting in a bottom bunk, nursing a baby.

People start talking to each other and Ms Castillo steps in to explain that Title 42 was due to be overturned on May 23, but a judge has temporarily blocked the move. “We are basically in the same situation as the past few months,” she tells them.

This news seems to suck what little air there is in the room. The group disperses, as residents turn to cellphones, childcare and new reading material in El Migrante.

Not all migrants have easy access to up-to-date information. Some can’t read easily, don’t have internet access or cellphones, or have fled their homes so quickly that they haven’t had time to make travel plans. The information circulating can be overwhelming and contradictory, “and unfortunately half of it is false,” says UNHCR’s Vázquez. “The rumors out there are huge.”

This is what makes reliable sources of information invaluable. “The likelihood of risk decreases when migrants have access to credible information,” says Rodolfo Cruz Piñeiro, director of the demographic studies department at the College of the Northern Border, outside Tijuana, who has studied how migrants obtain their information. “You can make better and safer decisions.”

Print news may be dying elsewhere, but it is alive and well for the thousands of migrants and refugees in shelters across Mexico each month who read El Migrante.

Navigate the maze

The idea for the newspaper was born in the fall of 2018, when thousands of migrants, mostly from Central America, crossed Mexico and arrived in Tijuana as part of the so-called migrant caravan. Mr Hardman, who worked in California for Internews, got in touch with Ms Castillo, a local reporter at the time, and they teamed up to interview some 200 newly arrived migrants about how they got informed and the types of questions they had. about seeking asylum in Mexico and the United States, or about their rights as migrants.

“One answer really stuck with me. Someone wrote, “I want to know how to navigate this maze,” says Ms. Castillo. “That’s exactly what they’re facing: chaos and confusion with no roadmap.”

The project took off and a four-person team now collects and delivers 3,000 copies of the printed newspaper once a month to about 50 shelters across Mexico, mostly on the southern and northern borders.

They produce a bi-weekly radio show that operates on a network of Mexican public radio stations and moderate a WhatsApp group where Haitians, Hondurans, Cubans, Guatemalans and others – scattered across Mexico – can find updates. daily updates and ask more specific questions about anything. from the paperwork required to enter a public health clinic to where to get diapers.

Marta Valenzuela, education coordinator at an NGO that supports migrant families in Tijuana, says El Migrante may be old school with its print format and simple layout, but it’s exactly what that some migrants need.

“It’s easier for them to take something physical,” she says of people who pass by her office. “They get so much information when they arrive. It helps to have something concrete to come back to,” she says.

Stay Informed, Stay Safe

Not that El Migrante has supplanted the smartphone. Ms Vázquez runs a page called Confia en el Jaguar, or “Trust the Jaguar” on Facebook, she says, because that’s where migrants naturally go to communicate with friends and loved ones. “Why not put the information they need in one place?” Make it easy and accessible for them,” she says.

Confia en el Jaguar has become a central digital place where international organizations and local NGOs can share messages with migrant and refugee communities, and where Ms. Vázquez’s team works in coordination with various UN agencies to respond to questions in real time.

The proliferation in recent years of migrants traveling with smartphones has increased the visibility of the project. People from 36 countries visited the page in the first four months of this year, and its staff engaged in direct message conversations with some 12,500 migrants and refugees in five languages ​​last year.

She sees efforts like El Migrante and Confia en el Jaguar as working hand in hand, reinforcing trusted information “in physical and online spaces. We need to cover all the bases.

Another online initiative grew out of a legal aid organization with offices on both sides of the border, Al Otro Lado, or “On the Other Side”. He recently launched an account on TikTok, an app more often associated with viral dances and goofy lip-syncs than dissecting the complexities of US border politics.

Migration and border policies are complicated and confusing, making it easier for criminals to trick migrants, says Maddie Harrison, community education coordinator at Al Otro Lado.

“Fake news and misinformation have increased since the pandemic,” she says. “You also see scams – people posing as immigration officers trying to charge people to cross the border or posing as immigration lawyers.

“We try to summarize what the big policy changes actually mean for people at the border or who are thinking of going to the border,” says Ms. Harrison. Their most-viewed video got 50,000 unique views, and she can see it’s been streamed in countries all over the world.

“People who were considering going to the border were able to access this information, hoping to make informed decisions” that helped them stay safe, she says.

“If our goal is to help people make informed decisions,” says Hardman, “the sooner we reach people, the better.”

About Stuart M. McFarland

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