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Meet Lorenzo Ortiz, a Mexican American Pastor Welcoming Asylum Seekers

For Lorenzo Ortiz, a Mexican American Baptist pastor, welcoming asylum seekers is the way to live God’s will.

Pastor Ortiz and his family live in the border community of Laredo, a place that has become the leading U.S. trade port, but also has the highest concentration of poverty in Texas. Its sister city, Nuevo Laredo, is both a manufacturing center and dangerous battleground for cartels and Mexican authorities.

Pastor Ortiz has been living and working with asylum seekers since 2017. First, when the Obama administration ended the decades long “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allowed Cubans who reached U.S. soil to stay in the country, he helped Cuban asylum seekers in Nuevo Laredo. Then, in 2018, when the Trump administration had the Border Patrol drop hundreds of asylum-seeking families at the Laredo bus station each day, he first arranged to shelter them at the Emmanuel Baptist Church and then brought them to his home.

Pastor Ortiz recalled one particular story about an asylum seeker from the Congo. He was a teacher.  When a student in his classroom fell ill and later died, her influential parents arranged for him to be jailed and later violently attacked his wife and children, forcing him to flee Congo. After a long and arduous journey to the U.S. border, DHS almost deported rather than release him, as he did not have a close relative or friend to stay with. But, while staying at the Pastor’s church, he connected with a friend from his hometown living in New York and moved there to pursue his case. The moment of welcome the Pastor gave this man surely saved his life.

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When, in the summer of 2019, the Trump administration began forcing asylum seekers to wait in danger and deprivation on the Mexican side of the border for their court hearings, Pastor Ortiz opened shelters for them in Nuevo Laredo. He also shuttled them to security in Monterrey and back to the port in Laredo for their hearings. A bricklayer by trade, Pastor Ortiz built a pizza oven so that asylum seekers could support themselves and contribute to the community while they waited.

The Pastor’s approach stems from his faith and his own background. In 1982, when he was 16 years old, his father brought him to the United States from Mexico in the hope of finding a way to support his large family. “We didn’t choose the country we were born in. We also didn’t choose the social position that we’d like to have. From there we have to try and do more.”

This is all part of a ministry focused on the idea that everyone, no matter their station, be a good Samaritan. A border network of Baptist churches—funded by private donations—works to cultivate this approach to supporting asylum seekers and migrants. “If with so little, we’ve accomplished a lot… As a nation, without a doubt, we can do much more,” he said. And certainly, provide for the basic needs of people seeking protection at the U.S. border.

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The Pastor put himself at great risk of harm by the cartels in order to help asylum seekers in Nuevo Laredo, claiming that “God calls us to give our lives if it’s needed for his service.” The Pastor felt compelled to do this, too, since neither the Mexican nor U.S. government was ensuring the security of the asylum seekers or providing them with any support.

His experience reaffirmed his belief that a better approach is to allow asylum seekers to wait for their hearings with relatives and friends in the United States. “These people are not criminals, and I am sure about this because we have eaten meals together, and I slept near them.”

In late March, the Biden administration began to allow select asylum seekers in the Remain in Mexico program who had been waiting in Nuevo Laredo and had tested negative for COVID-19 to enter the United States to pursue their claims. Pastor Lorenzo is helping ensure they have temporary shelter and coordinate their travel arrangements. He would gladly do the same for other asylum seekers who have been, and continue to be, expelled to Mexico ostensibly because of the pandemic, but without a truly persuasive public health rationale. There is no “cause for alarm,” he says, and remains focused on the work of safe and humane welcome.

READ  Dozens of migrants die in 30 days 

People seeking refuge at the border “are simply looking for a chance to live,” he says. “The more we live knowing the specific needs of these families, the more that God will show us what we can do about it. We can be those people that form a part of that help, that hope.”

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

READ  42 Nigerians, 231 other African migrants arrive Assamaka

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

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UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

READ  Five children, 40 other migrants die in largest recorded shipwreck off Libya Coast 

“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

READ  Pope defends migrants, calls for peace in Christmas message

Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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