Casa Tochan, a capital refuge with no more space for solidarity

In a secluded place in the west of Mexico City, between the streets of a popular neighborhood that is reached only by previous references, is the Casa Tochan, a shelter for migrants that for now receives them with a modest message on the door: “At this moment, the shelter is without space.” It is a friendly version of what its coordinator, Gabriela Hernández, describes without nuances: “we are collapsed”.

A metaphorical expression to explain that Casa Tochan has no more space for solidarity, since in the labyrinthine makeshift house as a ranch dozens of Haitians and Central Americans wander overcrowded before the overwhelming growth of migrants who have arrived in Mexico City since September. “We can’t cope …”.

It is the same story in the five civil shelters that help migrants in the country’s capital. Unfortunately, Hernández says, abandoned by the capital government to which they have unsuccessfully requested help. Just a few rations of food, but without meeting an urgent demand: that they become involved in the care of migrants.

The interview is interrupted by the arrival of Pierre, a Haitian accompanied by his wife, their three young children and a 15-year-old cousin. Although Hernández affirms that the shelter operates with more than 200 percent of the available space, he confesses a weakness: “this was originally a shelter for men and when they arrive alone we have had to reject them due to saturation… when a woman with children arrives it distresses me a lot, because it is impossible not to open the doors to them ”.

Dedicated to masonry, Pierre left with his family in Brazil, where his life has radically changed in recent times and is now looking for a better horizon. It is a journey and the history of tens, thousands of Haitians who have arrived in Mexico fleeing from the countries that originally welcomed them (Brazil and Chile), but with the certainty that the chaos that prevails in Haiti makes it impossible to return.

Casa Tochan has its history. It dates back to the last century when it was formed as a cultural center, “Monsignor Óscar Arnulfo Romero”, which very soon became a refuge space for those who had been fleeing the armed conflicts and repression in Central America.

“Here was Rigoberta Menchú, before she won the Nobel Peace Prize … and she was a friend of Carlos Salinas,” Hernández clarifies. Those were times of war in Central America.

Paradoxically, Casa Tochan emerges as such under the euphemism of the war against drug trafficking decreed by Felipe Calderón and its devastating effect on migrants. It was 2011, that year of the San Fernando massacre, but also when the risks for those who crossed the national territory to reach the United States became more acute.

That was the environment in which migrants began to arrive at the center that soon became Casa Tochan in 2011 (Nuestra Casa, in Nahuatl). “Not much has changed, he regrets.”

Among the diversity of nationalities of the residents of the shelter, David is a Honduran who fled from San Pedro Sula. Extorted by the gangs and threatened with death, he left Honduras at dawn one morning. An episode that followed him to Tapachula, where he met again with those who threatened him.

The fear of death brought him to Tochan with everything and his children and wife, where he hopes to obtain refugee status.

Like him, in the shelter there are dozens of hopeless migrants who are looking for a change in their lives, either passing north or regularizing their stay in Mexico to avoid extortion and abuse of authority, to work and be able to support themselves, because in Tochan they will only find shelter three months.

Desperate for the governmental vacuum, its coordinators sent a letter to the head of the capital’s Government, Claudia Sheinbaum, to face the critical situation facing the shelters: “We make an urgent call to the authorities of Mexico City. The shelters no longer have the capacity to serve more groups of people who are and will continue to come to the city ”.

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Casa Tochan, a capital refuge with no more space for solidarity