Videos sent by Josue, a resident of Camp Dignity — an organized collective of asylum seekers and aid organizations in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, described circumstances in the camp throughout the month of July. Josue and his family run one of several tiendas organized by aid workers in which donated supplies are provided free of cost to asylum seekers and their families. Josue’s family has lived in the camp for a year.
The latest report from Global Response Management, a medical NGO providing free, full-time healthcare services to camp residents and anyone in the area who needs access, indicated five confirmed cases among camp residents. 22 asylum seekers had been moved to the camp’s isolation area pending results, according to GRM’s project coordinator Sam Bishop.
In a first video sent early this month, showing collected trash, Josue says, “This trash has been here for three days and it has worms. The tent is really close and there is a family there. This is the reality of what we are living and suffering. We need to leave — that is all we want. We are not making it up — we throw bleach on the worms and they do not die.”
In a second, a child speaks from behind the camera as camp residents collect the trash. “Good afternoon. We are thanking God, but we are picking up the trash. This is one of our chores everyday. There are many flies, many worms. All of us are everywhere, we can get infected, get a stomach ache. It is a few of us that pick it up every day. There are people in front of tents; there are so many flies and worms.”
Josue says, “There are families surviving here. It is very unjust what is happening. We try to pick it up voluntarily. This trash has been here for five days. We cannot handle the smell and the worms. There are many families. Please — we need to leave this place. We are living horribly. We need to leave this country because we have been here for for a long time. Thank you to everyone watching and for everyone helping us to leave. Love the next person in life and not in death.”
Later, another child says, “The flies stop when we are eating and they are in our food.”
The child approaches the worms, adding, “There are small kids that will come near and they don’t know. Blessings and I wish you a happy afternoon.”
In a third video, the same child asks why the government in Matamoros is not assisting with trash collection. “We are here picking up trash, which should be the chore of the governor of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. What we do is we put all the trash in this cart until the fence, and we do it every day. We never see the trash truck. It has been a week since they have picked it up — as you can see, all the trash is in front of the tents. You can get infected in your face, body. There are tents broken because sometimes there is trash on top. It is not fair. We put the trash over here so the collector can pick it up, and there is a lot. “
“Please, we ask for help,” said the child, describing the process. “We put it over here and now, we are coming back. This is the news we bring to you.”
On July 12, Josue described taking supplies to assist a pregnant woman living the camp who was denied entry to the United States to have her baby. “It is a minor girl who is already in labor in Camp 1,” he said. “We decided to try to legally take her across the bridge with the doctors that are here. Mexican migration, Mexican law are opposed and they did not let us pass. She is supposed to be on the other side. She is a minor, but the doctors who are here could not cross her.”
Aid workers instead took her to a hospital in Matamoros, Josue said. “That is what informed us that they don’t even want to let pregnant people cross that bridge legally. These are the consequences that we are suffering — from the pregnant woman, to the elderly, to the children, and the parents. This migrant camp is very unfair.”
In another video, Josue described a tree collapsing at 3 a.m. “Thank god no one was harmed. There was no wind, rain, or storms. We thought these trees were strong. A man around 70 years old lives here and next to him, there is a family with a child. Other other side is a mother with a baby. This is some of what we have to fight every day.”
“A normal night without wind, no storms, this tree broke and started cracking. These were the consequences, and as you can see, in that other tent lives Don Mario and on the other one there is a mother with children. We are all family here. This is what happened at 3 a.m. when this tree decided to fall. It is like a pine tree. Thankfully no one was harmed because it fell slowly. This is another one of our realities at night. We try to sleep at 11 p.m. and wake up around 5:00 or 6 pm. We have to take care of each other.”
In another message sent in mid-July, Josue reported that a woman who had been in the camp for seven months attempted to cross into the United States with her son. The presence of COVID-19 in Matamoros, local orders, and restrictions on movement in and out of the camp have placed strain on asylum seekers already looking for ways to support themselves. According to Josue, the woman and her son were returned to Matamoros. “The first thing that Mexican migration told her is that she could no longer enter back to the camp, she would have to go to the street. Thanks to God, there were some immigrants who overheard. There was a conflict, with many of us migrants telling migration that they needed to do their job.”
Josue sent photos of quarantine tents installed by Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM) that appeared to have been sourced from the United Nations, to which the woman and her son were eventually moved. According to Josue, the woman has other family members still living in the camp. “It took the force of us immigrants so that they could give her a chance,” he said. “The opportunity was that the Mexican migration chief arrived. He told me she would be in isolation for 28 days, then would be tested and then to see if she could enter the camp.”
In early July, Josue said she and her son were the only people in those tents, and that there was no running water inside. Josue described four tents, three of which were clean and disinfected, and one that was dirty. “As you can see in the photos, there is a mound of dirt growing on the tent that they put on it. The other three tents are very clean. It’s important to support them because we feel weak here, us immigrants. I hope this information reaches people who can help them to get out of here, us immigrants from Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico.”
According to Josue, INM gave the woman and her son a meal. “Some friends from here from the camp came out and took her water for bathing because that place does not even have water to bathe,” he said.
“It is very unfair what is happening here. We need a change; we need to get out of this place. Please, people who listen to this news, this information — please help us to move forward. Please, to the United States. Thank you. Blessings to all.”
Asked on Wednesday evening whether the woman and her son were still quarantined inside the tent, Josue sent a photo of the woman and her son with fruit in their hands, brought by camp residents, who are assisting the family with meals and supplies. “It is very sad, as we are very desperate, and very sad because we can no longer stand being here,” he said.
Josue and his family sent a video on Tuesday taken during visit to the plaza near the international bridge, where the camp was originally located. “Good afternoon dear people who are going to see this video. We are immigrants in the camp close to the river. We are in the plaza across from the international bridge between Matamoros and Brownsville. We decided to step out because of the stress. Since we cannot handle being there, and decided to walk at least to the plaza where the camp used to be. We always remember about the things we suffered. This is the new park by the plaza. As you can see, we think we are going to calm down, but we don’t have the peace or tranquility we thought we’d have by coming here. We are very sad because we can’t handle being here anymore,” said Josue.
“We ask for help to get out of here. What we want to tell you is that when we got here there were many people — around 3,000 to 4,000. There are around 1,500 people now. This is our last resort and we want to give our children a better education, and to work. We don’t want anything free; we want a change of lifestyle for our children. This is the Puente Nuevo (Gateway) International Bridge. Thank you. Have a good afternoon, and we hope this video serves for people to know that there are still people here. I want to communicate immigrants are still here. Families are here, as well as pregnant women and elderly people. We have been here for a year. Please help us. Thank you.”
Aid work in the camp is ongoing. Resource Center Matamoros, Team Brownsville, Global Response Management, Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley are accepting donations to assist in the response efforts, aimed at both sustaining and empowering those asylum seekers awaiting court dates. According to a report published by the San Antonio Express-News on Wednesday, a census conducted by the Angry Tias indicated the camp is shrinking. Just under 1,000 residents were counted, as opposed to the 2,500 estimated in recent months.
On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice announced plans to resume asylum hearings under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP, ‘Remain in Mexico’ program) with a series of restrictions that will see proceedings postponed for the foreseeable future as COVID-19 cases surge and on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border.
The National Weather Service in Brownsville on Wednesday reported a storm system moving into the Rio Grande Valley that will likely bring rain and thunderstorms later this week. NWS is monitoring Tropical Storm Gonzalo, currently in the Atlantic Ocean, which is projected to become a hurricane by Thursday.
Camp residents have been publishing their own updates, viewable here: Migrant Camp News.