In April, I had the opportunity to participate in a conference in Medellin, Colombia hosted by the Como Nacido Entre Nosotros (Like Born Among Us) network, supported by CWS, along with leaders from more than 40 churches and faith-based organizations. The Como Nacido network works to sensitize, mobilize and equip the faith-based community in Latin America to serve and advocate on behalf of people in migration throughout the region.
The conference was a follow-up to a gathering held in December 2022 in Panama, in which I also participated. The most impactful part of the conference was a visit to a refugee camp located right on the river bank at the edge of the infamous Darien Gap. On the day we were at the camp, 700 people arrived from the jungle. Many had wounds on their feet but also in their hearts which were broken by everything they had seen and experienced, including death, lost loved ones, robbery, assaults, hunger and difficult terrain.
As we convened again in Medellín, there was a strong desire to be together and reaffirm the importance of our work which is motivated by faith, the value and dignity of human beings and love for our neighbors. The conversations were very personal and impactful. “I am afraid every day…but feel like I can’t really talk about it where I serve,” said one of the attendees who assist migrants in an area where organized crime is a daily reality. We heard many stories about the dangerous settings in which these leaders are serving on both sides of the Darien Gap, in Central America and Colombia. Many receive no outside support from international organizations or governments and depend on the limited resources of their local congregations.
Despite the emotional and physical toll of the work, our companions showed a strong commitment to accompany people migrating through their communities. It gives me great joy to know that these conferences have helped these workers know that they are not alone and that their work is valuable. Personal connections were made and continue providing ongoing mutual support.
I experienced that same spirit of dedication among leaders on my recent trip to Mexico, where I visited the REDODEM network, made up of 21 shelters located throughout the country. Currently, the situation in Mexico for migrants and asylum seekers is very dangerous. Throughout the journey northwards, they experience abuse, violence, exploitation and other terrible violations of their human rights. At several shelters in the state of Guanajuato and Querétaro, I also learned about the threats shelter staff regularly receive from criminal gangs. “When they call me and start making their threats, I hang up as quickly as possible. Afterward, I live with tension for several weeks,” a shelter employee told me. During my visit, I heard many dramatic stories of these types of threats occurring regularly. Some workers burn out and leave, but others stay because of their strong sense of calling to those in human mobility.
I wonder, what would happen to the individuals in search of safety without the presence of these sacrificial workers? Where would migrants and asylum seekers be without their support in Mexico and the Darien Gap region? When governments turn their back on people migrating, or worse, violate their human rights, these humble faith-based leaders are there to meet the basic needs of migrants, with sacrificial love and dedication.
Tara Henriquez is CWS Regional Consultant on Migrant and Refugee Response in Latin America and the Caribbean