“We were told that we were going to be helped here, that someone was waiting for us,” said in Spanish Andres David Blanco, who left Venezuela a month and a half ago, after arriving at Union Station on Tuesday evening. .
A network of self-help organizations with limited resources and a non-profit organization operating with a federal grant were scrambling to help migrants, while the number of buses arriving in the city keeps increasing.
This patchwork of aid failed on Tuesday night, after key organizers and advocate volunteers from the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network were quarantined after being exposed to the coronavirus while helping migrants over the weekend. SAMU First Response, an international aid organization that has a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help migrants, only operates Wednesday through Saturday.
SAMU chief executive Tatiana Laborde said the organization tried to assemble a team to find last-minute resources after it became clear on Tuesday that there were not enough volunteers to help incoming immigrants.
Laborde said in an interview that the SAMU does not have the capacity to coordinate all the buses. “We are increasing our capacity, but all the agencies involved know it’s going to take time,” she said. Of the approximately 15 buses that arrive each week, the organization can manage half of them.
The FEMA grant from SAMU is enough to provide emergency aid to around 2,000 migrants a month, but the number has doubled in recent weeks.
EMS operates out of a shelter in Montgomery County, Maryland, where Laborde said he prioritizes migrant families from Arizona who often arrive with children. The refuge only has a capacity of 50 people authorized to stay for a maximum of three days. By Wednesday morning, Laborde said, the shelter was already full.
Laborde said the organization began a conversation with DC officials to secure a permanent spot near Union Station, but the conversation “did not materialize” into concrete actions. The Migrant Solidarity Network has also called for access to respite centres, coronavirus isolation hotels and short-term accommodation for migrants.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) did not immediately comment.
Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), a member of the DC Council, said it appeared UAS was still working through issues in its operations, stressing the importance of a stronger response from local authorities.
“EMS has a learning curve, they have a wide range of people who are good at emergency response and serving refugees, but have never done this job in DC before,” Nadeau said. “If the governments of the region depend on the SAMU to achieve this, it is not feasible.”
She added: “As stretched as our government is at the moment, we probably need more boots on the ground with EMS until they have everything in place.”
Nadeau, who is chair of the Region Forward Coalition at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said local leaders who are part of the group will meet next week to determine exactly what officials and nonprofits, including the SAMU, can do to increase support for those arriving in town.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network said it had taken a two-day break following exposure to the coronavirus, but the group was “exhausted” and needed help.
“Community organizations and volunteers in the DMV area have been showing up every day for over three months to support migrants, but we are exhausted, exhausted and don’t have the resources the government has,” Madhvi said. Bahl, from Sanctuary DMV and Free Them All. VIRGINIA.
Meanwhile, many migrants who arrived Tuesday evening spent the night inside Union Station. Shelters for families were not available on Tuesday evening, and those that could accommodate migrants could only accommodate male individuals.
Venezuelans Ángeles Pinto León, 22, and Pedro José Sánchez, 30, and their two children left Peru two months ago. They reached the border last Wednesday and were told at a shelter in Texas that they could be transported on a free bus to DC
They said the place they got in Richmond was no longer available. Now they’re looking for shelter or a home to stay in DC
At 9 p.m., volunteer Matthew Burwick, a Venezuelan activist who said he was at the site to help EMS, answer questions and distribute granola bars and water, coordinated transport for four families and seven children to the EMS shelter in Montgomery County. On Wednesday morning, Pinto León, who was taken to the shelter, said she was told she could stay there for a few days, but could not find permanent accommodation.
Many migrants attempt to reach other states such as New York, Florida or Georgia, but many have nowhere to go and hope the city can give them a fresh start.
“Do you know where 14th and U are? Leonardo Javier León, 26, asked in Spanish. “I was told there were many restaurants there where I could apply for a job.”
“I don’t have anyone here, but I have the will to work,” said León, who worked as a sous chef in Venezuela.
Some, like asylum seeker Eduardo Antonio Mendoza, face last-minute cancellations by friends or sponsors.
“I called my friend tonight, but he told me he couldn’t see me anymore,” said Mendoza, who traveled from Nicaragua and planned to go to New York, in Spanish.
Mendoza said he took the bus from Texas because he was on his way to New York, but now that he has nowhere to go, he’s glad he ended up in DC
“I would have been lost there,” he said.
Michael Brice-Saddler and Julie Zauzmer Weil contributed to this report.