CIUDAD JuARez, Mexico (AP) — Since he began volunteering at a weekend clinic two months ago at one of the border city’s largest shelters, Dr. Brian Elmore has treated nearly 100 migrants for respiratory viruses and several more serious emergencies. .
But there is a problem he has yet to resolve that worries him most: the growing trauma that many migrants endure after long journeys north, often associated with witnessing murders and suffering from abductions and sexual assaults.
“Most of our patients have PTSD symptoms — I want to screen every patient,” said Elmore, an emergency physician at Clinica Hope. It was opened this fall by the Catholic nonprofit Hope Border Institute with the help of Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, which borders Juarez.
Doctors, social workers, shelter directors, clergy and law enforcement say a growing number of migrants are suffering violence amounting to torture and arriving at the US-Mexico border in desperate need of medical and mental health care for their injuries.
But resources for this specialized care are so scarce, and the shelter network so overwhelmed with newcomers and migrants stuck in US asylum policy for months, that only the most severe cases can be processed.
“Like a pregnant 13-year-old girl who escaped gang rape and therefore needs help with childcare and high school,” said Zuri Reyes Borrero, curator at the Arizona Torture Victims Center, who visited the girl when she gave birth. “We get people in their most vulnerable places. Some don’t even realize they’re in the US.”
Over the past six months, Reyes Borrero and a colleague have helped about 100 migrants at the Catholic Community Service Casa Alitas, a shelter in Tucson, Arizona that received about 700 people released by US authorities and arriving from various countries every day in December. like the Congo and Mexico.
Reyes Borrero said each visit could last several hours as professionals try to build relationships with migrants, with a focus on empowerment.
“This is not a community that we talk to about a babbling brook… They may not have a reliable memory,” said Sarah Howell, who runs a clinical practice and nonprofit that treats migrant survivors of torture in Houston.
When she visits patients in their new communities in Texas, they usually represent relatives or neighbors who also need help with severe trauma but lack the stability and security they need to heal.
“The estimated level of need is at least five times what we support,” said Leons Bymana, director of the US Clinical Services Center for Victims of Torture, which operates clinics in Arizona, Georgia and Minnesota.
Biimana said most migrants are traumatized by what they left behind, as well as by what they encountered along the way. He added that they need “first aid for mental health” as well as long-term care, which is even more difficult to arrange when they disperse from border shelters to communities across the country.
According to Dylan Corbett, chief executive of the Hope Border Institute, without treatment, such an injury can develop into a condition that requires mental health care instead of therapy and self-help.
Jesuit Refugee Services/USA, the US arm of the global Catholic Refugee Agency, plans to ramp up mental health resources in the coming weeks in El Paso, which has seen a surge in border crossings, its director Joan Rosenhauer said.
Across the border, the most staggering trend is the increase in the number of pregnant women and girls, some under 15, who are victims of assault and domestic violence.
Volunteers and advocates face so many survivors that they have to send meager legal, medical and shelter facilities to help them, leaving hundreds of other victims of political violence and organized crime to fend for themselves.
Service providers and migrants say that the most dangerous place on a journey full of dangers at every turn is “la selva” – the jungle of the Darien Gorge that separates Colombia from Panama, which is crossed by an increasing number of Venezuelans, Cubans and Haitians who first made their way to South America and is now looking for a safer life in the United States.
Natural hazards such as deadly snakes and rivers only exacerbate the risks in an area teeming with bandits preying on migrants. Loreta Salgado was a few months old after fleeing Cuba when she crossed the Darien.
“We saw a lot of dead people, we saw people who were robbed, people who were raped. We saw it,” she repeated in a broken voice at a migrant shelter in El Paso a few days before Christmas.
When asked about “la selva,” Howell said, some women simply held their breath and only later revealed that they had saved their daughters by pushing them forward and being raped by themselves, or by enduring strained relationships with their partners who were forced to watch the attack.
“I don’t think this is the first rape that most of the women I’ve talked to have experienced. But this is the most cruel and the most shameful, because it was in front of other people, ”added Howell.
In many cases, forensic examinations at border clinics documenting mental and physical abuse are also crucial in migrant asylum cases, Biimana said, because there is often no other evidence for legal proceedings. Asylum is given to those who cannot return to their countries due to fear of persecution for certain reasons, including sometimes very high levels of systemic violence against women.
But it takes years for asylum cases to be resolved in U.S. immigration court, and there are now more than 1.5 million pending cases, according to Syracuse University’s Transaction Record Access Clearinghouse. And that’s with pandemic-era restrictions that allow authorities to deny or expel most asylum seekers.
The long wait for a solution to the problem, on top of the long journey across multiple countries, could exacerbate the trauma migrants experience, advocates say.
“There’s a different tension and fear on the faces than I’ve seen before,” said Howell, who has been researching trauma and forced migration for 15 years. “They don’t know how to stop running.”
Associated Press contributor Morgan Lee of El Paso contributed to this report.
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