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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Tijuana: a home away from home for economic refugees

TIJUANA, Mexico. Since May, the tent city in the El Chaparral neighborhood of Tijuana has been filled with an additional population of South American travelers in hopes of finding new life across the border in the United States – less than 1,000 feet from where they sleep.

At 10:00 on the last Saturday, the Mariachi Orchestra played worship music within the now fenced-in perimeter guarded by Mexico’s municipal and federal police forces. The air was filled with the smell of portable toilets, mingled with the smoke from the late morning meal.

Hondurans, Guatemalans and Haitians are just some of the mixed groups of migrants living together in the camp.

Just two blocks from the Nativo Coffee Community, a man with headphones sat next to the cat.

“My fellow Haitians are fleeing poverty and economic hardship right now,” Fritznel Merite told The Epoch Times.

“The situation can be described as chaotic. Criminal activity threatens families, and political unrest causes suffering and limits work opportunities. ”

Epoch Times Photos
Haitian pastor Fritznel Merite sits next to a cat at the Nativo Coffee Community in Tijuana, Mexico on November 6, 2021. He also works in a factory to send money home to his family in Port-au-Prince, in addition to leading the Baptist community. (John Fredricks / The Epoch Times)

When Fritznel arrived in Mexico on a temporary visa six months ago, his initial mission was to work in furniture factories in Chihuahua to send money home to family members in Haiti who live near the capital, Port-au-Prince.

“I worked on an assembly line connecting pieces of furniture together,” he said.

“It’s such a blessing to send money home to my family.”

One day while working, Fritznel was contacted by a Haitian pastor from the Tijuana area. He asked Fritznel to come and lead the Haitian church there, which currently has 80-100 members.

“While I could have made more money in Chihuahua by working in the same job as in Tijuana, God prompted me to accept,” Fritznel said.

“To work harder in the affairs of God is more important and priority in my life.”

After moving to Tijuana three months ago to respond to pastor calls for other Haitian parishioners living and working in the border town, Fritznel noticed a revival among his peers that he felt worthy to share.

“The people at home were timid and did not firmly believe in God,” he said.

“But during the resettlement of people to Mexico, I now see more clinging to God. The hands of God are behind this, and as a pastor I am encouraged here. “

Epoch Times Photos
Epoch Times Photos
Eliza, a Haitian migrant living in Tijuana, Mexico, walks towards a migrant camp near the US-Mexico border November 6, 2021. (John Fredricks / The Epoch Times)

Fritznel’s congregation includes Eliza, also from Haiti.

The tall 28-year-old was enjoying a short break from his usual 10-hour shift as a fellow driver.

“If given the opportunity, I think every Haitian would want to leave right now,” said Elise.

“My family has reported constant criminal activity in my city, and it is growing.”

Elise’s journey to Tijuana began after he left Haiti for the country of Chile, where Haitians are allowed travel without requiring a prior visa.

By bus, Alice, his uncle and two cousins ​​traveled to 11 countries until they eventually ended up in Tijuana, but not after many trials along the way.

Epoch Times Photos
Epoch Times Photos
Tire tracks lead to the Sonoran Desert in Baja Norte, Mexico, May 6, 2021 (John Fredricks / The Epoch Times)

“The trip is becoming dangerous and expensive,” he said.

“There are checkpoints through which you have to pay money for travel. They are not run by government officials, but by the townspeople who have weapons. “

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Alice, whose family in Haiti helped pay for his bus ride, was frequently extorted by the men who arranged for him to travel to the US border. On several occasions, he and other Haitian migrants had to pay four times the originally agreed amount to travel from one city to another.

“Panama was probably the worst place because of fees and crime,” he said.

“But my experience is not terrible; I made it to Mexico and was lucky enough to be an Uber driver. My life is going well here. “

In Tijuana, where many Haitians are trying to transition to a new life in the United States, one city resident commented that this is the second major wave he has witnessed since he lived in the city.

Epoch Times Photos
Epoch Times Photos
Haitian migrants take refuge at a local church in Tijuana, Mexico, May 27, 2017 (John Fredricks / The Epoch Times)

Stan Lee, a South Korean missionary with RTC Ministries, recalled that he first saw caravans of homeless migrants along the streets of Tijuana before Mexican authorities set up camps in El Chaparral.

“I first noticed that caravans were arriving in Tijuana about four years ago,” Lee said.

“And the situation was constantly changing. There are various reasons for the appearance of these caravans, but most of them are looking for a better life. “

Using part of his ministry time to minister to migrants, Lee encourages local churches to help those seeking to move past donations and giveaways by saying there are opportunities to minister throughout the day.

“Getting to know what’s going on here can only help the serving aspect of ministry here.”

After buying Fritznel and Elisé coffee, he happily patted them on the back. Their masks could not hide the smiles they experienced while experiencing hospitality away from home.

Haiti is currently the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with nearly 60 percent of its citizens living below the poverty line.

Epoch Times Photos
Epoch Times Photos
Haitian migrant children take refuge at a local church in Tijuana, Mexico, May 27, 2017 (John Fredricks / The Epoch Times)

The country became even more desperate after the assassination of former Haitian President Jovenel Moise on July 7, 2021.

Natural disasters and armed militias continue to leave the country in peril, prompting Fritznel and Elise to flee to Mexico to work and send the money they earn to their families struggling to survive at home.

“I would like to stay in Tijuana, but the future is uncertain for me,” said Elise.

“At the moment, I am very happy to be here.”

As Tijuana is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, these two men look beyond statistics and feel empowered by a higher power to respect the opportunities they face.

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge,” Fritznel quotes one of his favorite Bible verses.

“His loyalty will be your shield and bulwark.”

“This is a growth time for Haitians, and I am encouraged that God has shared this scripture passage,” he added.

John Fredricks

To follow

John Fredricks is a California journalist for The Epoch Times. His reporting and reporting on photojournalism has been featured in numerous award-winning publications around the world.

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