the migrant diaries: Mexico 2017-3

It Looks Just Like Haiti

by Lynne Jones

Tijuana, Mexico*

Monday May 1, 2017

Toy making this morning. This is my favourite parent-and-baby group session because everyone always gets completely engaged. And today we have four fathers! At the beginning the infants are rioting around as usual and I am trying to sort out the box of rubbish I bring to demonstrate that your kitchen is full of toys: old juice and milk cartons to make bricks, empty plastic bottles for rattles, needles, and thread to make simple puppets—and one child always grabs the scissors or the needles, and another hits a smaller child with the wooden spoon that I brought along with saucepans and tin cups, and the smaller one starts yelling. But then there is always that magical moment when something catches everyone’s attention and everyone is happy and focused. Today it is making jigsaws out of pieces of a cardboard box. I demonstrate ‘one I prepared earlier’, just like a good TV chef, and all the parents present immediately grab cardboard and magic makers and start drawing pictures with their children, who are completely engrossed.

Blessed and her husband draw a picture of a mountain range—it looks just like Haiti—and then cut out the mountains as jigsaw pieces. Matthieu carefully replaces them propping the jigsaw up on boxes so that the whole thing is upright.

Blessed and Mathieu working on the jigsaw puzzle of the mountains of Haiti

Charles, one of the fathers, has been attending the workshops as both parent and translator. He was a Spanish teacher in Port au Prince, Haiti. It was a good job but the school was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake, as was his home.

… Luckily I did not lose anyone, he told me when he told me his story the first day.

He ended up camping out at the airport for almost a year. We might have bumped into one another in the first half of 2010, me on my way to a humanitarian cluster meeting in the airconditioned containers ringed by security fences and UN troops, him to a collapsing tent in the internally displaced people (IDP) camp next door. After a year of waiting for the humanitarian community to ‘build back better’ as promised, Charles still had no job and no home. In 2011 he left for Brazil, which was making Haitians welcome, particularly in the ramp-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics.

… I worked hard, I learnt how to paint cars.

Unfortunately, as Brazil’s economy began to fail so did its welcome. In September of 2016, along with many other Haitians, Charles and his wife and daughter decided to flee north, hoping to make it into the US before Trump’s election.

They made it up to here and the US border between Tijuana and California. The trouble was that by the time they arrived in Tijuana, the US was trying to stem the flow by giving asylum applicants precise dates for crossing. He was allocated March 11, 2017. He did not cross.

… because the US has started deporting people directly back to Haiti. People who crossed before the beginning of January were fine. But those crossing after, unless they were unaccompanied mothers with babies, the US just rejected them. I won’t take the risk. We are going to stay here.


Asmamaw (my husband) and I are running the parent-and-baby groups at the invitation of the Comité Estratégico de Ayuda Humanitaria Tijuana (the Strategic Humanitarian Aid Committee of Tijuana, henceforth the Comité), Espacio Migrante (Migrant Space), and El Programa Binacional de Educación Migrante (the binational eduation program for migrant children). The Comité was formed by volunteers last year to deal with the sudden rush of migrants flooding north. The traditional shelters, run by some churches and by the Salvation Army, were overwhelmed. In the past these shelters had mainly housed Mexicans deported from the US, while they made up their minds whether to try again or go home. But starting last summer, more and more refugees were passing through: Haitians, Cubans, Africans, Venezuelans and Ukrainians as well as Central Americans

… They did not have enough places so new shelters opened—mostly in churches—and our group has tried to organise infrastructure and support.

Lourdes is a social worker and does all this work unpaid in her spare time. She explains there are now about 36 shelters in the town, and at any one point there might be 3000 migrants. The numbers change all the time—sometimes 100 to 150 arrive in a day. There has been a reduction in those heading north since January, post-Trump inauguration, on the other hand deportations have increased and large numbers of Haitian families—like Charles—have decided to stay.

Ella for example—another mother in the group—has a 6-month-old baby who was born by emergency caesarian section in Costa Rica. Her husband is a doctor and has a job here in a Mexican hospital. They are staying as are the two other mothers in the group. All of them have come from Brazil.

Saturday May 7, 2017

It’s the last parent-and-baby group and there are two new mothers whom I met at a Comité information session last night. One of them has a two-year-old who scarcely speaks. Part of the problem is that all these parents and babies live scattered across the city in different shelters—one here, two there—so there is little company or encouragement to play and communicate. The group went really well. Children and parents loved the movement work—at one point I had four small children sitting on me using me as a boat, at another they were all crawling through the tunnel we made with our bodies and then turning their parents into horses to ride. Toys are not required, one happy adult makes a fabulous tunnel/ horse/ rock/ climbing frame/safe armchair for rocking.

A father with his daughter in Lynne’s parent-and-child group

At the end of today’s group everyone agreed they wanted to continue to meet once a fortnight. So Lourdes and Ella are going to try to organise that. I am so happy that we have started something.

Read more of this diary (this excerpt is from the middle of it). We previously posted another blog excerpted from the same diary.

Go to the video of Lynne Jones and this training on her Facebook page.

Editor’s Note: This is the third of a series of diaries about working with refugees and migrants that Lynne Jones has shared with FXB. We are honored to publish them. All opinions are those of Lynne Jones. Items in [ ] are editorial additions.

Lynne Jones, FXB Visiting Scientist, is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, writer, researcher, and relief worker. Her most recent book is Outside the Asylum: A Memoir of War, Disaster and Humanitarian Psychiatry.

*All migrant names are pseudonyms, personal details have been altered, and all have given permission for their stories to be told. All have known their photos were being taken.

© 2017 text and photos Lynne Jones

Read Lynne’s first Mexican blog.

Read Lynne’s second Mexican blog.

Read research on US-Mexico border policies from the FXB report, Children on the Move.

Go to the FXB Children on the Move page for more information about children and families migrating.

With Luke Pye, Lynne Jones has created a website where migrant children can tell their stories themselves through drawing, video, and words. Go to the website for Migrant Child Storytelling.