As you probably know by now, I am very involved with UNICEF. I am Chair of UNICEF Next Generation in New York and also am a member of UNICEF’s Board of Directors. UNICEF is an incredible non-profit organization focused on saving the lives of children worldwide. I am honored to be able to attend UNICEF field visits where we are able to witness humanitarian issues first hand. This past week, I was in Tapachula, Mexico with UNICEF spending time working with migrants to understand the biggest issues they face so that we can help provide solutions. It was absolutely life-changing.
I was able to share this trip with Halima Aden, a Somali-American model who was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. Being able to experience all of it with her put everything even more into perspective given that she was a migrant herself. Below you can see Halima showing me an IOM bag that she carried all of her belongings in at the age of 6 years old when leaving the Kenyan refugee camp for the United States.
Migration is a human right. Everyone should be able to migrate when in danger. Typically, people leave a Central American country to go to Mexico because of gang violence or domestic violence. Sometimes Mexico is their end goal, but other times they hope to make it to the United States. You can see below a map that is in one of the migrant shelters depicting how many kilometers it is from that shelter to specific cities in the states. Unfortunately, given that many of the people I met this weekend are “at risk” meaning they could be put in danger if they were identified, we were not able to take photos of any of them. Therefore, most of what you will see below are photos of what the Mexico/Guatemala border and shelters the migrants live in look like. It should give you a sense of what it is like to be a migrant.
We started our trip in a migrant shelter that was started by the Catholic church. The surrounding areas of the southern border of Mexico are typically very run down and often dangerous because of human trafficking, so shelters are critical for protecting migrants. This shelter offers more than just beds to sleep in. It also offers classes so that migrants can develop skills for the workforce. Classes include hair cutting and styling, baking, sewing, air conditioning repair and refrigerator repair. Some of the baking students were kind enough to bake us some fantastic cupcakes!
After visiting some shelters and meeting with migrants who shared their stories, we drove down to the Guatemala/Mexico border. We witnessed migrants traveling on makeshift rafts from Guatemala across a river to Mexico. We ultimately decided to experience the raft ride ourselves, which was absolutely shocking. The border area is very run down and primitive. As a woman, I couldn’t help but thinking about women and children crossing the river and the risks they face. Below you will see a mural of a cheetah on the Mexico side of the border that also exists on the Guatemala side. It is like a puzzle piece connecting both sides that reads “There are no borders in the skies, why should there be borders on land?”
We ended our trip traveling legally through the border with authorities. As you can imagine, it is incredibly complicated to go through authorities to get from Guatemala to Mexico and many migrants fear for their lives so much that they don’t necessarily have the time to wait for the legal process. At the end of the day, I think this trip was a stellar reminder that migrants are human and are just trying to live the best life possible.
I will leave you with what one migrant said when we asked if she could have one thing what it would be: “I just want some human rights. I don’t need all of the ones you have, but just some to make me feel human again.”