For decades, Haiti has endured coups d'états, authoritarian governments, complex political conflicts, and international interventions that have left behind weak institutions incapable of providing the basic needs of its people. The fragility of the country has forced thousands of Haitians to migrate in search of better living conditions. Most recently, massive displacement have been caused by both the 2010 earthquake that destroyed Port-au-Prince and the cholera epidemic that was brought over by UN peacekeepers and is responsible for 10,000 fatalities.
Many Haitians have immigrated to Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, and the United States. None of these countries have accepted them under the international legal definition for a refugee. The US, however, has offered them a temporary protection status, and Brazil continues to grant them a humanitarian visa, allowing them a stay in the country, but with limited protection compared to a refugee.
In Brazil, many initially found work in construction, building the infrastructure for the 2014 Soccer World Championships and then the 2016 Summer Olympics. Meanwhile, youngsters attended local universities, and the service industry employed many women. By spring 2016, the first wave of Haitians coming from Brazil began to arrive at the southwestern border between the US and Mexico. Later that year, after the Olympics finished and the Senate impeached President Dilma Rousseff, more Haitians left, seeking entrance into the US. Most ended up in border cities like Tijuana, Mexicali, and Nogales, overwhelming local shelters. The Mexican government opened its doors to all and coordinated with US migration authorities to keep those crossing to a limited number. However, the burden of maintenance, food, and housing costs during the waiting period in these Mexican cities fell to local municipal and state offices, as well as NGOs, churches, and others offering private donations.
According to César Anibal Palencia Chávez from the Tijuana Municipal Migration Affairs Office, close to 4,000 Haitians were distributed among 27 shelters in the city, and slightly fewer were in the neighboring Mexicali, awaiting a date to cross into the US in December 2016. By the end of the month, those who arrived were told they would have to wait up to five months.
The photographs below show the everyday lives of Haitians stuck in Tijuana. Some look for work to earn a few extra pesos; others constantly worry about what to wear, hoping to always look sharp, should they get tapped on the shoulder and granted entry into America. Not all of the shelters are able to maintain the standards they want. Temporary shelters now include a church where 300 migrants sleep on the floor and one that had to acquire 70 additional tents for 200 migrants, when it initially expected to only hold 45 people.
And the general situation is getting worse. Trump's immigration issues with Mexico have created further uncertainty, making an already urgent situation even more dire.
All photographs are by Hans Museilik. You can follow his work here.