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Journalist’s Notebook: What I learned from listening to asylum seekers around the world

When I see a headline in the national section of the newspaper about a new situation in a country somewhere in the world that might scare people away, like the escalating violence in Sudan, I usually take a mental note.

It is likely that I will soon meet someone in Tijuana who has come to ask the United States for protection against these circumstances. How long it takes simply depends on the geographical distance of the country and the resources available for those at risk.

But there are other situations that we don’t necessarily hear about until asylum seekers are already at our border asking for help. I have seen in the data on border apprehensions each month that there has been an increase in the number of people coming from Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, as well as Turkey. But until recently, I didn’t know why.

I’ve spent many hours at the border in recent weeks documenting the end of Title 42, a border policy implemented under the Trump administration that deported certain nationalities to Mexico or their home countries without the ability to apply. asylum. I met many asylum seekers from these countries waiting in open-air waiting areas between border walls for the Border Patrol to process them.

A group of men buy food and phone chargers while waiting between border walls.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

I heard similar stories over and over again from migrants from Colombia, Peru and Ecuador – and they sounded very much like the stories I’ve heard for years from people fleeing Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Criminal organizations there have become more powerful since the pandemic, they told me. Extortion, kidnappings and murders have become far too common.

A man from Colombia told me that a guerrilla group that controlled his area tried to recruit him. He didn’t want to join.

“I had the option of staying and dying or watching a family member die, or leaving,” he told me.

He said the corruption that provides impunity to these criminal organizations is spreading throughout Latin America. It does not matter, he said, whether the country has a right-wing government or a left-wing government.

“In a nutshell, everyone wants to be a dictator,” he said.

Asylum seekers from Turkey also quickly filled in the question mark that had been in my head since I heard about their arrival a year ago. They identified as Kurds, a minority ethnic group that faces discrimination there. They – like so many from countries that appease political opinion, persecute certain ethnic groups, or perpetuate violence against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity – were looking for something they believed only United States could provide them. Freedom.

Reporter Kate Morrissey of the San Diego Union-Tribune stands next to the border wall on the Tijuana side

Reporter Kate Morrissey of the San Diego Union-Tribune stands next to the border wall on the Tijuana side. She and photographer Ana Ramirez documented groups of migrants held between walls by Border Patrol.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

California Daily Newspapers

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