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UCC group visits historic Mexico migrant shelter

Wednesday, 7th August, 2019 4:43pm

A group of UCC staff has visited a shelter in Mexico where women have provided food and water to hundreds of migrants for 25 years.

The group recently visited the shelter in Veracruz as part of a collaboration with one of UCC’s partners in the region, the Universidad Veracruzana. The shelter is run by group of women called Las Patronas (or ‘the Bosses’) in a tiny rural village called El Patron.

For many years, the region has functioned as the main transit corridor for Central American migrants, thousands of whom travel on top of the infamous freight train known as La Bestia (‘the Beast’).

The shelter is run by Las Patronas and staffed entirely by volunteers, who have been preparing and distributing food parcels to ‘passengers’ on top of the train since 1995. Running alongside the train as it passes through the village, they throw parcels of rice, beans and water to help the migrants on the journey.

The UCC group who travelled to the camp was Professor Nuala Finnegan at the Centre for Mexican Studies, Dr Margaret Brehony, IRC Caroline Post-Doctoral Fellow and Cliona Maher at the International Office.

The humanitarian crisis currently being witnessed at the US-Mexico border is the result of thousands of citizens fleeing poverty and violence in Central America to undertake the 3,000 mile perilous journey north in search of a better life.

With donations from UCC's School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, the International Office and the Mexican Community in Cork, the UCC team purchased a large supply of rice, beans (frijoles) and oil, delivering them directly to the women and working alongside them to pack the food into parcels for distribution.

Professor Nuala Finnegan said: “It was inspiring and also humbling to meet with people who provide such extraordinary selfless support to the most vulnerable and impoverished of the world’s citizens.”

The group was in Veracruz as part of their participation in a summer school entitled ‘Faces of Migration’, which examined issues of migration, sanctuary and asylum and their human impact.

The Universidad Veracruzana has led initiatives to advance understanding of the refugee crisis, and summer school organizer Aranzazu González Hernández coordinates a programme specifically dedicated to returning migrants with academic, financial and psychological supports.

The number of migrants returning from the US, both voluntary and deported, has risen exponentially in the last five years and they face enormous linguistic, economic and social challenges on their return.

The UCC group said its collaboration with Las Patronas is envisaged to continue, “shaped by the memories of conversations with Norma Romero, the formidable co-ordinator of Las Patronas, who spoke with passion about our common, shared humanity and the responsibility of all individuals to show solidarity”.

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