There is a refugee shelter in the Mexican capital that is normally known among advocates and migrants as a calm, comfortable place to wait months for asylum. It prioritizes families and people in need of specialized post-traumatic care. Its rows of dormitories look like a budget hotel, where asylum-seekers can make themselves at home in a foreign country.

But on a recent afternoon, the shelter known as CAFEMIN was in chaos.

“It’s an hour wait for the bathroom, you can wait days for a shower,” says 26-year-old Milien Jean from Haiti, here with her husband and 3-year-old son. “Sometimes there’s not enough drinking water.”

The shelter’s 100-person capacity has been stretched above 500 on some nights as it tries to make space for thousands of migrants in limbo in Mexico City. Its covered recreational courtyard is now packed with migrants throughout the day and blanketed with sleeping mats at night.

On May 11, the United States’ pandemic-era policy to turn away most people at the border, Title 42, expired and a new slew of rules left an unknown future for migrants hoping to head to the U.S.

Overcrowding at shelters has long been the norm in Mexico’s northern border cities like Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez and Matamoros. Now, the prolonged uncertainty and confusion for migrants is putting pressure on relief services across Mexico.

“This is extremely painful for me,” says Sister Magdalena Silva, director of CAFEMIN, a nonprofit shelter run by the Roman Catholic community Hermanas Josefinas.

Just a few minutes earlier, the nun had to turn away multiple families with babies. Stays at the shelter are now limited to one week, meaning many will be back to sleeping on the street. “We’re between a rock and a hard place.”


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