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Caravan Migrants Settle Into New Shelter In Tijuana

Migrants eat at El Barretal, Dec. 4, 2018.

Photo by Jean Guerrero

Above: Migrants eat at El Barretal, Dec. 4, 2018.

The new shelter for migrants in the caravan is an abandoned concert hall called Barretal with a capacity for 7,500 people, in eastern Tijuana. It’s not yet half full.

A dusty menu on the wall still advertises cigarettes, Red Bulls and cheap beers. Central Americans pitch tents in an open-air area outside. Inside, families arrange black mattresses on the floor.

Migrants say it’s better than the previous facility, an overcrowded municipal sports facility. It's spacious, with a parking lot where people can bring donated clothing and food, and closed areas that provide shelter from the rain.

But there’s a downside: the facility is a 30-minute drive from the San Ysidro Port of Entry, where people who want to request asylum in the U.S. must put their names on a waitlist, and check in periodically to see if it’s their turn.

Most people have no idea how to get to the port from Barretal.

Manuel Antonio Lopez is a 54-year-old Honduran man who says he received death threats at home. He put his name on the asylum wait list while staying at the old shelter, a short walk from the port. He was given a number on a scrap of notebook paper: 1,479.

“I haven’t gone back since I got here, I don’t know the status of the list, if it’s my turn yet, I don’t know.”

Photo by Jean Guerrero

Migrants arrange cots on a floor at El Barretal, Dec. 4, 2018.

RELATED: Tijuana Shuts Down Migrant Shelter In Sports Complex

He says he has no money to pay for bus tickets to get to the port — the only way he knows of to get there. Shelter coordinators say they’ll eventually create a method for letting people know when it’s their turn to speak to U.S. officials, and transferring them there.

In the meantime, people are confused. A Honduran woman spoke on condition of anonymity because she fears for her life. She says she fled her country with her two daughters after her husband, an electrician, was killed for refusing to pay money to the gangs. She says she has been checking Whatsapp, an application on her phone, for news from a stranger who told her he’d put her name on the asylum wait list for her.

“Someone wrote me down for asylum, but they didn’t give me a number yet, they said they’d sent it to me through my phone," she said.

She teared up in indignation when talking about the lack of privacy at the shelter. Journalists are allowed to come in unsupervised. She says cameras are everywhere when she tries to shower with her daughters.

“There isn’t privacy. The cameras are always focusing on us, taking photos all the time. We aren’t actors. Why are the cameras following us?" she said.

Hundreds of people have refused to leave the old shelter near the port and set up camp outside on sidewalks. Hundreds of others have signed up to go back home with the help of the International Organization for Migration and Mexico’s immigration agency. Many were disillusioned with how hard it is to enter the U.S. A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson says officials say it will take five to eight weeks to even start processing people from the caravan, because of a pre-existing asylum backlog.

Video by Kris Arciaga

About 2,400 migrants are staying at an abandoned concert hall run by the Mexican federal government as they await their turn to ask for asylum in the U.S.

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