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April 19, 2022

Responding To: Innovating Protection for Children Along the Migratory Route and at the U.S.-Mexico Border

The “Filter Hotel": A Protective Space for Migrant Families on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Cesia Chavarría, Communications Assistant, International International Organization for Migration; Juan Manuel Ramirez, Communication Assistant in the Field Office, International Organization for Migration

Showing the IOM Mexico on Innovating Protection for Children at the U.S.-Mexico Border Video

Tijuana, Mexico, March 4, 2022- Mexico is a country of origin, transit, and destination for migrants, and every year there are thousands who arrive in the country with the aim of entering the United States or in search of better opportunities in Mexico. The number of migrant children and adolescents (NNA) in Mexico has increased considerably in recent years. According to the U.S. Government Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in fiscal year 2020 there were 33,926 apprehensions of accompanied and unaccompanied minors. Meanwhile, in 2021, 149,033 apprehensions were registered, which represents an increase of 339 percent.

Migrant children require highly specialized care. The instability, the lack of routine, and the stress of the family environment during a migration affects child development, especially in early childhood. The little ones arrive with fear, frustration, and sadness, among other feelings, which affects their behavior and can manifest itself in forms of isolation, aggressiveness, and other behavioral changes.

Likewise, the COVID-19 pandemic is a factor that has made the migratory situation in Mexico even more complex by forcing many shelters to close their doors or significantly reduce the spaces available to limit contagion. Migrants arrived in northern Mexico during the pandemic without knowing anyone to a new place, in this case, to the U.S.-Mexico border. Families have faced experiences along the way that in many cases test them to the limit. Many add to this situation the concern to find a safe space and the lack of knowledge on how to access basic services.

What is the “filter hotel”?

Given this situation, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) responded with a pioneering humanitarian initiative in Mexico: temporary quarantine accommodations, also called "filter hotels," in two border cities between Mexico and the United States with significant migratory flows—Ciudad Juárez (state of Chihuahua) and Tijuana (state of Baja California).

The purpose of the two "filter hotels" promoted by IOM-UN Migration, in alliance with civil society, the authorities of the three levels, and the private sector, has been to offer a quarantine space to migrants so that they can later enter a shelter safely without spreading COVID-19. In addition to accommodation and food, during their stay in the filter hotels, migrants and their families receive continuous medical supervision and psychosocial care.

In Ciudad Juárez, the first was installed in May 2020. In Tijuana, the “filter hotel” was inaugurated in June 2020 and continues to operate at the time of writing this story (February 2022). In these months it has served more than 3,900 people, of which almost 1,600 were NNA, members of nearly 1,000 migrant families.

The Story Tent

Within the "filter hotel" in Tijuana, there is a space that seeks to meet the psychosocial needs of the people staying there. It is a white tent that, when the pandemic struck, served to isolate positive cases of COVID-19. However, the low incidence of positive cases that arrived at the "filter hotel" in recent months made this tent become the tent of stories, a place dedicated to assisting with particular attention to the youngest guests and their families.

“Part of the work we do in the story tent is to create a friendly space that takes care of the psychosocial needs of families, especially children,” explains Silvana Aguirre, a psychologist who works at the “filter hotel” in Tijuana.

The IOM Mexico specialist comments that one of the accompaniment dynamics that helps children the most is the so-called “pen pals,” where each boy or girl is assigned a “friend” who is another little girl or boy housed in a the same “filter hotel.” Pen pals draw simple stories or messages so their partner doesn't feel alone. This activity helps them express themselves and connect with each other.

Also, in carrying out recreational activities and crafts, IOM staff invite boys and girls to share symbolic details such as their traditions and cultural aspects of their places of origin with other boys and girls staying at the hotel, so that they can get to know other cultures and stories similar to theirs, through the drawings and crafts they make and that are visible in the stories folder.

Inter-institutional Collaboration to Create Care Routes for Migrant Children

The psychosocial care team at the “filter hotel” works closely with the IOM Protection Unit in Tijuana to follow up on the cases. The first stage consists of interviewing the families to determine their conditions. This interview helps to detect the most vulnerable cases that require accommodation. The psychologists are in charge of the registry that corresponds to a second stage of the process for the accepted families, whose objective is to know if there is any behavior that requires specific psychosocial attention.

When signs of unusual behavior are detected, the psychologist has an approach with the family to find out how they feel, or if they perceive any strange changes that affect the behavior of a migrant boy or girl. The psychosocial care team reports to the Protection Unit, whose members have the necessary experience and contacts with civil society organizations, local government institutions, and other partners.

One of the most important actions promoted in Tijuana by the IOM team has been to make migrant families who have sons or daughters born in Mexican territory aware of the importance of having the necessary registration documents. They insist with them that the right to identity is an extremely important right and that having birth certificates and other identity documents is key for these migrant children.

“They face problems due to the lack of an apostilled birth certificate, passport. or other documents, which forces them to spend money or even return to their country of origin, since without the documents they are often denied birth registration or your expedition. So, this leaves girls and boys without an identity, which is a very serious problem,” explained Cristina Reyes, IOM Protection Assistant.

OIM seeks for the birth certificate to be modified if there are errors without this implying an extra expense for the family. It also works to facilitate the issuance of documentation to migrants whose sons and daughters are born in Mexico. This process is carried out in collaboration with consular representations in Tijuana.

Challenges and Expectations of the "Filter Hotel"

At IOM we believe that the model of temporary accommodation in "filter hotels" has become a reference for networks of shelters and institutions that work to care for people. The migrant's houses rely on the prior channeling of people that is done in a "filter hotel" to be able to receive them in their facilities. Likewise, in terms of psychosocial care, the collaboration networks with mental health professionals allow the follow-up of the cases that have been detected in the “filter hotel.” The space that began as a response to the pandemic now offers holistic care to migrant families arriving at the northern border of Mexico, not only offering a quarantine space, but also attending to the psychosocial needs of people and especially of child migrants.

Cesia Chavarría is a communications assistant at the International International Organization for Migration (IOM Mexico). In the last four years she has held various roles at UN Migration such as media liaison, Twitter community manager, and content creator. Currently, she is in charge of the communication strategy in the Field Offices, which involves training and training workshops for the teams in the field. She also coordinates content programming for the joint project between IOM and Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) to provide audiovisual information for migrant shelters in Mexico, several of them on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Juan Manuel Ramirez has a master's degree in communication from Iberoamericana University (IBERO), Mexico City campus. He has four years of experience in the field of institutional communication and recently in the field of humanitarian work and migration, collaborating as communication assistant in the Field Office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Tijuana.

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