When the Taliban stormed Kabul, Wali Modaqiq, 54, started calling each American, Briton and European with whom he had labored on environmental tasks, pleading for assist to evacuate him and his household.
“The message I received back was: ‘You’re not our direct employee, so we cannot help you,’” he stated. “But I brought them in, I took them around, I helped them work in Afghanistan.” He says environmental activism with international conservationists had made him an enemy of the Taliban.
Working by way of again channels and each contact he had, Modaqiq and his household fled to Iran after which Turkey, the place in March final 12 months he caught a flight to an unlikely vacation spot: Mexico City.
“I’m really grateful to the Mexican government because they gave us a safe passage letter,” Modaqiq stated.
He assumed that Mexico would make for a fast, straightforward stopover earlier than the household may head north as refugees. He wasn’t alone. Thousands of Afghans are believed to have made their manner to Mexico since August 2021 in the hope of travelling on to declare asylum in the US.
On a gentle, sunny Tuesday morning in Mexico City, Modaqiq sat in a classroom with 4 different Afghans practising Spanish, studying vocabulary that would assist them get round the hectic metropolis. Upstairs, a room full of Afghan girls embroidered with Mexican volunteers.
This unassuming constructing in a relaxed residential neighbourhood has been was a group centre for folks like Modaqiq by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
“The needs of refugees from Afghanistan far exceed the [US evacuation] response that happened,” stated Dan Berlin, director of the IRC’s Crossborder programme in Mexico. “There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands whose protection needs were not met by the evacuation procedures that happened in the weeks following the Taliban takeover.”
The IRC launched the Mexico City group centre in September 2021 when the nation’s authorities opened its doors to US media corporations evacuating their Afghan employees. But after these 289 Afghans had been all resettled in different international locations, the centre remained open, amid an exponential growth of so-called “extra-continental migrants” from outside Latin America.
“It’s not just Afghans,” Berlin says. “We have Russian clients, Jamaican clients, Congolese clients, people from all over the world who mingle in the same space.”
Every day, between 30 and 50 folks come by way of the centre for medical and psychological care, language lessons and assist with Mexican paperwork. The IRC distribute flyers in eight languages aside from Spanish to migrant shelters throughout Mexico, hoping to attain migrants who really feel significantly out of place.
In 2022, 17,450 migrants coming from Africa or Asia had been detained by Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM), in contrast with simply 3,852 in 2021. Last 12 months, Mexico granted folks from Africa and Asia 4,355 humanitarian visas, which permit them to briefly reside in Mexico, in contrast with simply 1,787 in 2021.
The rising quantity of Muslim migrants in Mexico is clearest in the border metropolis of Tijuana, the place in June 2022 the nation’s first Muslim migrant shelter opened.
The IRC group centre has been a haven for folks like Modaqiq and his household as a result of they don’t have the proper to work or examine in Mexico – and by no means anticipated they’d be right here for greater than a 12 months. Modaqiq filed his refugee utility for the US 18 months in the past.
He is one of hundreds of thousands of Afghans in limbo, nonetheless ready to see if they are going to be allowed into the US as resettlement purposes far exceeded US authorities expectations.
And being subsequent door to the US has not helped Modaqiq like he thought it would.
Restrictions on asylum in the US imply smuggling his household over the US-Mexico border is a dangerous choice: not less than one Afghan asylum seeker has been criminally prosecuted for doing so.
He has tried US Customs and Border Protection’s CBP One, the closely criticized cell app which is the manner folks should now e-book an appointment to request asylum in the US. Like greater than 100,000 different asylum seekers in Mexico, he wakes in the early hours of the morning to attempt his possibilities at one of 750 every day slots. He’s been unsuccessful since January.
“Somehow, all the doors are closed to Afghans,” Modaqiq stated. “I don’t know why. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing but you see the Ukrainian crisis and all the doors and borders are opened to Ukrainians. That’s not the case for Afghans.”
Despite particular resettlement packages in the US, Afghans in Mexico are amongst the plenty of asylum seekers who are turned away from the US border, alongside these coming from international locations like Honduras, Venezuela and Haiti. Since August 2021, 1,477 Afghans have been detained by the INM, which was liable for the deaths of 40 Central and South Americans in a fireplace on 28 March.
As time wears on, Modaqiq feels an increasing number of out of place in Mexico.
“I cannot keep my kids isolated from their religion, from their community, from their culture,” he stated.
Even in the Mexico City megalopolis, there’s a minuscule Muslim inhabitants and only one small mosque. Halal meals is extraordinarily exhausting to discover. Modaqiq says his spouse and daughters spend little time in public, uncomfortable with the unusual glances they get for sporting hijabs and talking Dari. He hopes they will join with Afghan and Muslim communities in the US however he’s beginning to really feel determined.
When Modaqiq flew his household over the Atlantic Ocean and ended up only one border away from the dream of resettling in the US, he thought the exhausting half was over. He by no means thought-about that his refugee utility may very well be denied, that he would nonetheless be ready in Mexico greater than a 12 months later.
“I don’t have a backup plan,” he stated.