La Soledad: The Church for Migrants in Mexico City

Migrant family in Mexico City
Thursday, March 28, 2024

"God bless what falls into the belly," was the phrase with which Claudia Torres, a volunteer at La Soledad shelter, concluded her prayer for the breakfast of over 60 migrant individuals who had waited in line since early morning on March 5th. Every day, hundreds of people from different parts of the world come to La Soledad to receive food, medical assistance, legal advice, to freshen up, and to rest.

The shelter operates within the premises of the church of the same name, adjacent to the iconic and 'tough' neighborhood of Tepito, in Mexico City. For some years now, Father Benito Torres, the parish priest of La Soledad, no longer celebrates masses, only offering a Sunday service. The church has turned into an immense communal dormitory. Its mission now is to welcome all migrants, including over 400 individuals who remain in tents in the plaza next to the sanctuary. Its proximity to immigration offices makes this place home for many awaiting a text message from CBP One, the US government's mobile application that receives asylum requests.

According to the Mexican Ministry of the Interior, 782,176 individuals in irregular migration situations presented themselves to Mexican authorities upon entering the country in 2023. More than half of the people who entered the country under irregular conditions flee their countries due to well-known yet increasingly critical situations such as hunger, lack of opportunities, and violence. For most migrants, Mexico has become the most challenging stretch of their journey, even harder than the Darien Jungle. If an irregular migrant is captured, they are returned to southern cities or directly to the Guatemala border.

It's past 10 a.m., and the shelter's schedule is off because the food arrived late. However, this gives Claudia time to make some announcements to her guests and tell a few jokes. Besides being a topographical engineer, Claudia is a professional clown, and good humor is an excellent resource to calm exhausted and impatient people down. "Here we have Venezuelans, Ecuadorians, Haitians, Congolese, Afghans, and Chinese. All nationalities have passed through here," says the volunteer. When asked how she communicates with people who speak another language, she responds with laughter: "That's where I put my mime skills into practice; that's the universal language." However, she emphasizes that assistance is becoming increasingly complex, not only due to the historical increase in mobile people in Mexico City and the country but also due to the challenges posed by coexistence among different cultures, languages, customs, and faiths.

Claudia Torres talks about the conditions in which migrant people arrive in Mexico City.

Thousands of migrant children in Latin America and the Caribbean face enormous difficulties due to a lack of access to basic services like water and hygiene. This situation worsens during their journey through irregular migration routes, where they are exposed to diseases, dehydration, and unsanitary conditions that can lead to gastrointestinal infections, skin diseases, contagious illnesses, and respiratory problems that further affect their health and well-being during their journey.

World Vision Mexico and UNICEF have joined efforts to address this issue at La Soledad, and since January 2024, they have been implementing Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) actions. According to Evaristo Alcalá, WASH technician at World Vision Mexico, "Providing hygiene kits is just the first step; that's why we promote education and good hygiene practices through talks. The real effectiveness lies in the complementarity between providing resources and fostering knowledge, thus ensuring a lasting impact on the health and well-being of the communities we serve."

Additionally, since December 2023, World Vision Mexico has been supporting this and 6 other shelters in Mexico City with supplies for cleaning, hygiene, blankets, menstrual kits, baby kits, and food. So far, 3,500 people, including children and adults, have participated in this project.


Amidst the group of migrants, two families agree to share their migration stories.

Luzmar (28), Valeria (7), and Valentín (4) left Ecuador in October 2023 bound for the United States. "We left Venezuela many years ago because my parents weren't paid well. Then we lived in Ecuador for 4 years. I have cousins there," says Valeria. When asked, "What was the hardest part of your journey?" the girl responds without hesitation: "The jungle (El Tapón de Darién) is very difficult; there are mud mountains. There's no food. My mom made us soup with lentils and pasta, nothing else. Besides, I felt scared. I didn't see anything because my mom covered my eyes, but I knew there were dead people," Valeria concludes.

Valeria talks about her journey through the Darien jungle.

The family left Ecuador due to the wave of violence in the South American country. "We left because of a lot of insecurity, but to this day, we haven't had any rest. The whole journey has been very dangerous. Even more difficult because we traveled as a complete family, with 8 children," says Luzmar.

They arrived in Mexico in November 2023. They did not wait for the appointment to apply for asylum in the United States; they decided to move forward to the northern border, and on December 25th, they were returned to Villahermosa, Tabasco, in the south of the country. They are on their second attempt to reach the United States; this time, they initiated the asylum process. "Mexicans are good people, but immigration is tough. It has been very difficult. I don't know why they treat us like this; I don't know what we did wrong? I'm afraid that they will catch us again and take us to the border. We no longer have money, but it cannot be that after advancing so much, I don't reach my destination (the United States). I will insist until I cross," says the Venezuelan lawyer seeking a better future for her children.

The journey of Luzmar's family has faced many challenges along the way, and she narrates their journey.

Next to Luzmar are Yesmelis (42) and her children, Alejandro (14), Leiru (12), and Chelier (6). For this family, it all started in September 2022, when Yesmelis and her husband decided to migrate because their children could not attend school for three years due to their economic situation.

According to the latest ENCOVI 2023 survey, only 66% of the population between 3 and 17 years old in Venezuela is enrolled in school, and 40% do not attend classes regularly. Irregular school attendance, affected by strikes and absences of teaching staff, impacts approximately 2.6 million children and adolescents, exacerbating educational lag, especially among children aged 7 to 11.

The Darien jungle was their first destination, and it took them nine days to cross it. "It has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I do not recommend it to anyone," says Yesmelis. The little money they took ran out, and they decided to stay and work, for over a year, in Costa Rica. In December 2023, they continued their journey to the United States.

They were detained near the US border and taken to the country's south. They embarked on the journey to Mexico City again, and for several months, they have been homeless while awaiting an appointment to apply for asylum in the United States. The effects of the wait are felt especially in the children. "This has affected my children psychologically. I feel they are very rebellious now. They were not like this before, and it hurts to see them suffering. I have neither a father nor a mother to leave them with, which is why we decided to bring them along to fight with us," says Yesmelis. The lack of support networks is one of the vulnerabilities faced by migrant families.

Valentín and Chelier, the youngest of these families, are now friends and spend a lot of time playing. However, despite their young age, their eyes reflect the tiredness and hopelessness of an endless migration crusade. This undoubtedly calls urgently for all of us to make a difference in the lives of migrant children.

Yesmelis talks about her mental health as a migrant

Since 2019, World Vision's Multi-Country Response to the Migrant Crisis "Hope Without Borders" has been working in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela to address the root causes driving irregular migration. In collaboration with our allies, we have established a model that not only responds to the immediate needs of migrants and host communities but also seeks to build a more hopeful future for those who have left their homes in search of well-being.

Through our projects on Protection, Food Security and Nutrition, Socioeconomic Integration, and Mental Health, we have provided over 2 million services to migrant children, adolescents, and their families. However, our work is far from over. Every day, thousands of migrant children face challenges as they strive for a safe and dignified future. With your help, we can continue to provide hope and opportunities to migrant children in our region.