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Projects Abroad partner expands facilities for migrants in Guadalajara, Mexico

Migrants dine in the dining hall of FM4 Paso LibreFM4 Paso Libre, a Projects Abroad International Development project partner in Guadalajara, Mexico, held an inauguration on 8 December 2016 to celebrate the opening of new dormitories as part of the organisation’s migrant shelter in the city. In preparation for the opening, Projects Abroad volunteers and staff spent the weekend before cleaning up the space where the dormitories were constructed. The shelter will provide temporary housing for up to 100 occupants, and it will be an expansion of FM4’s current migrant services which include a soup kitchen providing two meals a day, legal counseling, psychological counseling, and medical assistance. 

The purpose of FM4 Paso Libre is to provide a temporary safe space for migrants in transit from Central America and Mexico’s southern states to the border towns within the United States. Fleeing poverty, danger, and institutional collapse in their home countries, migrants cross into Mexico at the southern border and follow the train routes north in search of safer living conditions and the opportunity to find honest work. It’s a long and dangerous journey through Mexico, and migrants are faced with a seemingly endless number of threats along the way, including abduction, robbery, narco violence, rape, and physical injuries from assault or from hopping trains. Migrant shelters have been established along the primary routes to provide temporary assistance to those making the journey.

Volunteers and staff members paint the wall of the new dormitory in preparation for its inauguration at the FM4 Paso Libre migrant shelter

Migrants follow two primary routes through Mexico. The most heavily trafficked and also the most dangerous is the Ruta del Golfo, or the Gulf Route. The other is the Pacific Route which is much longer, but considerably safer due to the lack of narco violence in the area. Guadalajara is one of the central stops along the Pacific Route, and volunteers at FM4 Paso Libre have taken it upon themselves to provide the area’s migrants with food and clothing as well as legal and medical assistance to those who require it.

“We want to be both a physical and social space for migrants where they can feel safe and calm,” states Elisa Guerra, volunteer coordinator at FM4. “Many migrants have told us when they are here that they are reminded that they’re people. They’re a person that is worth more than the money in their pocket or the ransom that their family can send if they are kidnapped.”

Mexico country director, Oliver Garcia, and local support staff Arely Maldonado work to prepare for the opening of the new dormitory at FM4 Paso LibreStarted by a group of university students in 2007, FM4 is one of the only migrant houses in Mexico that operates independently and is not under the charge of the Catholic Church or the Mexican government. Having worked in other migrant houses around the country, the students recognised the migrants’ need for assistance in Guadalajara and began frequenting the train tracks in their free time to gather migrant information and to offer food and clothing. As their efforts began to expand, more volunteers began to join and they were able centralise their operations in a single location. From there, the organisation began its evolution.

“Volunteers are the backbone of FM4 because everything was started by volunteers who did it out of their own initiative,” Guerra continues. “It started as a group of 15-20 people who did it because they wanted to. We didn’t have the structural support from the beginning that most migrant houses do.”

Community day helper, Arely Maldonado begins work painting at FM4 Paso LibreNearly ten years later, FM4 is a fully functioning civil organisation working within a network of migrant houses throughout Mexico. With operations based in a large warehouse outside of downtown Guadalajara, seven full-time staff members and 140 volunteers attend to roughly 30-40 migrants per day, though that number can be as high as 85 or as low as three. Upon opening the new dormitories, FM4 will be one of a small number of migrant houses affiliated with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), meaning that in addition to transiting migrants, the shelter will also be able to provide services and temporary housing to those with refugee status. It is with funding from UNHCR, as well as the Australian Embassy, that FM4 has been able to construct the new dormitories and to expand their services.

From left to right, Arely Maldonado, Tatjana Kotschenreuter, Rosa Juarez (seated), Oliver Garcia, and Natalia Gomez at FM4 following the the community day“When FM4 started, all of this was just a dream,” Guerra adds. “To have a shelter and to be taken as seriously as the other migrant organisations which have been our role models was a dream. It’s been very enriching to be able to build from our own experiences and personalities and the personality of the city.”

Projects Abroad volunteers joining the International Development project at FM4 find themselves working daily alongside local volunteers. They can get involved in a variety of aspects of civil association human rights work, ranging from interacting and attending to migrants to assisting in daily operations to helping to secure donations from local benefactors.

“The objective of FM4 is to defend the human rights of migrants, so that they can pass through Guadalajara metropolitan area freely and with dignity,” Guerra concludes.    

Take a look at our International Development project in Mexico to see how you can contribute.

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