Migrant Women Face Mental Trauma
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Many migrants traveling to the U.S. to seek asylum are traumatized at every juncture. Our next story includes upsetting details about that trauma. Some migrants are fleeing violence and political strife in their home countries. Some become the targets of gangs and criminals on their journey and then again as they wait in dangerous Mexican border towns. As Monica Ortiz Uribe reports from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, these harrowing events are taking a mental toll that's mostly being unaddressed.
MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: On bad days, a Nicaraguan man locks himself in the bathroom of a migrant shelter and taps poetry into his smartphone.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Through interpreter) My country continues to mourn. The prisoners are more and more. How I'd like to return and proclaim my liberty, but I can't because I may be killed.
URIBE: The man asked that we not use his name because he fears retaliation from the Nicaraguan government. Last year, the university where he worked joined a national wave of protests against President Daniel Ortega's administration. The government responded with violent suppression. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed. Among the dead was the man's best friend.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Through interpreter) At night, I wake up and hear the gunshots, and I see I'm holding my friend. And I look at my hands. Even when I'm awake, I can see my hands full of blood where I tried to seal the hole in his head.
URIBE: It's been three months since the man and his family arrived in Juarez hoping to request asylum in the U.S., but the family will likely be turned away under a new Trump administration policy that requires they first seek asylum in another country along the route they fled. Last week, the Supreme Court allowed the policy to go into effect while legal challenges play out. Tens of thousands of migrants are currently waiting in Mexican border towns.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).
URIBE: At the Juarez shelter, a state-employed psychologist plays a Mexican version of bingo with a group of kids. Only three psychologists visit three shelters once a week. That covers just a fraction of the migrant population.
Mariana Salcido with the state health department says that what they do right now is very basic.
MARIANA SALCIDO: (Speaking Spanish).
URIBE: "We start with games," she says. "Then we share information about available services and tell them about an emergency hotline open 24/7." They also do group therapy sessions.
Meanwhile, migrants continue to face trauma. On a corner floor mat, a 34-year-old Cuban woman named Dani hugs a fluffy toy puppy. She asked that we only use her first name because she's also fleeing government persecution. On her journey to the U.S.-Mexico border, she says she was raped at gunpoint. Here in Juarez, she says she was threatened by hitmen after witnessing them shoot a man dead on the street.
DANI: (Speaking Spanish).
URIBE: "They pointed their gun at me and said, she who talks in Juarez wakes up with ants crawling from her mouth." Now, Dani sits at the shelter day after day, too petrified to go out. She says not even a thousand psychologists could help her forget what she's lived.
DANI: (Speaking Spanish).
URIBE: "I wish there was a deep and wide hole where I could - poof - disappear all the negative energy I carry," she says.
In that same shelter, a group of asylum seekers from Uganda and Cameroon also wait. Namcasa, an African woman who shares just her first name for her own protection, says that because they don't speak Spanish, they feel particularly isolated.
NAMCASA: It's hectic. We just sleep, wake up, chat a bit, sleep.
URIBE: Humanitarian workers describe the situation in Juarez as a kind of purgatory. On a recent visit, Susannah Friedman with CARE, an American aid organization, documented the migrants' experiences. She recalls being in one shelter when, suddenly, a kid's balloon popped.
SUSANNAH FRIEDMAN: Everyone jumped. No one spoke. Their eyes were wide open, and you could see that they were ready to run, and that's because they've had to do that at each and every turn.
URIBE: That constant fear, Friedman says, can have long-term damaging effects. And as asylum seekers face mounting roadblocks into the U.S., relief could be a long way off.
For NPR News, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.