Kitchener-Waterloo

Laurier students glimpse lives of asylum seekers in Mexico

Mexico currently has 23,000 refugees seeking asylum, coming from Central America and even some African countries fleeing gang violence, sexual discrimination and poverty.

Mexico is dealing with 23,000 migrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and even Africa

Mexico is handling about 23,000 migrant refugees. The majority come from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and even African countries like Guinea, Sudan and Somalia. (Stacey Wilson-Forsberg)

Students from Wilfrid Laurier University have seen first-hand the lives of thousands of migrants from Central America and Africa who are fleeing gang violence, sexual discrimination and poverty, currently seeking asylum in Mexico.

It's part of Laurier's Human Rights and Human Diversity program, where students spend three weeks in Mexico learning about human migration. They spend time with people staying in refugee shelters in and around Mexico City. 

Stacey Wilson-Forsberg, an associate professor at Laurier, runs the field course every two years. These experiences give students an opportunity to learn more about someone's reality, she said.

"The students hear about migration in the classroom and you become desensitized," Wilson-Forsberg told Craig Norris, host of CBC's The Morning Edition.

"It's so important for the students to put a face and a name to those people."

Stacey Wilson-Forsberg, runs the field course every two years and said these kinds of field projects give students an opportunity to learn about someone's reality. (Stacey Wilson-Forsberg)

Staying in Mexico

Mexico is currently home to 23,000 migrant refugees from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and even African countries such as Guinea, Sudan and Somalia, said Wilson-Forsberg.

Many have their eyes set on the U.S. and Canada, but Wilson-Forsberg recently noticed a drastic shift in the migrants' mentality. Their outlook changed between the time she traveled to Mexico in February preparing the course, to when students arrived in May.

Many refugees who once were determined to cross the border into the U.S., now are in no rush to leave Mexico.

"It's changed since the Trump administration," she said. "Word has traveled that there is no way they are going to make it over."

Instead, they would rather wait to get refugee status in Mexico before they attempt to cross the border.

Although Mexico struggles with criminal and drug violence, Wilson-Forsberg said it's still safer than most Central American countries.

Students had a chance to visit numerous shelters during their stay in Mexico. Wilson-Forsberg and her students are seen sharing a moment with a young man who wrote a poem for his grandparents, who are still in El Salvador. (Stacey Wilson-Forsberg)

Visiting the shelters

Students had a chance to visit numerous shelters in Mexico, including a men's shelter where students shared meals with them, saw several painted murals the men had done and heard their stories.

Wilson-Forsberg recalls one of the most memorable moments of the trip: she and her students spent time with a young man who has a passion for writing poetry.

"He was reading the poetry he wrote for his grandparents, who remain in El Salvador," she explained.

​"I translated the poetry from Spanish as he read. He cried, I cried, and our time with this intelligent young man was very memorable."

Interviews

Wilson-Forsberg's students are required to interview several migrants during their stay. Sharyne Williams, a third-year student with the program, spoke with several migrants from Honduras and El Salvador, where she heard stories of fleeing criminal, drug and gang violence and hardships of leaving family behind.

Williams said this experience was eye-opening for her.

"You get a deeper connection with the problem and what's going on and the causes you're fighting for," she said.

Because she speaks French, Williams also spoke to refugees from Guinea, who told her they were being attacked for their ethnicity by other ethnic groups.

Dreamers scholarship

During their stay, Wilson-Forsberg and her students met with a group called "The Other Dreamers," children of undocumented Mexican migrants living in the U.S.

These are children who have been deported back to Mexico, or they chose to leave the U.S. because they can't attend post-secondary American schools.

"They're not allowed to pay in-state tuition in the [U.S.] because they don't have their papers and so they go to Mexico...and want to study there but they barely speak Spanish," Wilson-Forsberg said, noting that many also can't read or write Spanish.

Wilson-Forsberg, Williams and another student, Patrick Mulligan, are working on creating a scholarship for the Other Dreamers.

The grant would give one achieving individual the opportunity to study at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.

Wilson-Forsberg said they are in the early stages of putting the scholarship together but hopes to bring the first student to Laurier by September, 2018. 

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