‘Awful outbreak’ of COVID-19 at Reynosa migrant camp hampers efforts to relocate families to shelter

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On Monday, June 28, 2021 the first 125 migrant families were relocated from a downtown plaza in Reynosa, Mexico, to a nearby faith-based shelter, which has built on an extension with a concrete foundation and showers and is supplying them with new tents. A roof is expected to be added on soon, nonprofit leaders tell Border Report. (Courtesy Photo)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Coronavirus cases are increasing and sweeping through a migrant tent shelter in the crime-ridden northern Mexican city of Reynosa, where over 1,000 asylum-seekers are currently living, and migrant advocates are racing to relocate families to a safer shelter area, they told Border Report.

On Monday, there were over 20 positive cases of COVID-19 among migrants tested in a downtown area called the Plaza, Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, co-director of the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers told Border Report on Tuesday via phone.

Felicia Rangel-Samponaro is co-director of the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers and helps migrant families in the northern Mexican city of Reynosa, as well as other border towns in Mexico. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Rangel-Samponaro’s organization is the lead NGO in Reynosa helping migrant families. For several months, her organization has been helping children and vulnerable families who wind up in this makeshift tent encampment in a city for which the U.S. State Department has issued new warnings this week for Americans not to travel to due to an uptick in murders and kidnappings.

“It’s an awful outbreak. So right now they are roping off an area on the plaza for just the COVID cases,” Rangel-Samponaro said.

Plans are to test 100 migrants Tuesday. Those who are negative for coronavirus are eligible to relocate to an extension being built onto the faith-based Senda De Vida shelter in Reynosa, she said. There they will get new tents and be on a concrete foundation that should help prevent rain and rodents from coming into their tents.

Migrant aid workers assist migrant families to relocate into new tents at the Senda de Vida shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, on Monday, June 28, 2021. (Courtesy Photo)

“Whoever is negative gets to go to Senda and whoever is positive has to stay and be quarantined until they test negative,” she said.

On Monday, they began moving 125 families into the new shelter extension, she said. And 125 more families are expected to be relocated Tuesday. But migrant advocates say they can’t keep up because every day more and more families come as the border remains closed to asylum-seekers due to Title 42 travel restrictions that were put in place under the Trump administration to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between Mexico and the United States.

The extension has been in the works for a couple months, Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, another nonprofit that helps families in Reynosa, told Border Report. There are currently about 600 families at the shelter, but once completed, the addition will be able to hold 1,200, Pimentel said.

“There are a great number of families congregating in the plaza and we’re trying to help them move from that area,” Pimentel said. “Being in the plaza is not safe for the families so moving them to a sheltered area will better protect them will be safer than they are.”

The shelter extension has newly built restrooms and showers, and a roof soon is expected to be added on. All families who relocate are given new tents to decrease the potential for spreading COVID, Rangel-Samponaro said.

Over 1,000 migrants are living in the downtown plaza in Reynosa, Mexico. RIGHT: Volunteers with Sembradores de Fe provide free medical help to migrants at the Senda de Vida shelter in Reynosa. (Courtesy Photos from the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers.)

The migrants have been congregating in the plaza as Title 42 travel restrictions remain between the United States and Mexico and prevent asylum-seekers from crossing the border north.

Said Pimentel: “We need to establish a better process so people who want to migrate don’t have to go through these hardships and they can just enter the United states without such worries or being deported or being kidnapped.”

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