About 40 people gathered Saturday at a Halifax café to support the migrant caravan travelling towards the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I’ve been feeling so alone reading the news and hearing what’s happening to my people,” said Claudia Castillo, one of the organizers of the event at Glitter Bean Café on Spring Garden Road. She was born in Canada to migrant parents from Panama and Colombia.
“It does warm my heart to see people that care,” said Castillo. “Seeking asylum is a human right and the fact that so many folks are denied, this is a huge issue.”
A migrant caravan from Central America, estimated to include up to 7,000 people, is travelling to the U.S. border through hot temperatures and torrential downpours mostly on foot. The caravan’s journey started in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Oct. 12. People from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala have since joined, according to the New York Times.
Stacey Gomez, another organizer, called for the Canadian government to end the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement. Under the agreement, refugees are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in, unless they qualify for an exception. For asylum seekers from Central America, this means they can’t request asylum in Canada.
“We want Canada to make a commitment to open our borders to these migrants and refugees,” Gomez said.
Marcelo Sabuc, national co-ordinator of the Small Farmers Committee of the Highlands (CCDA) in Guatemala, spoke at the event. He said the situation in Central America is alarming.
“Many families leave not because they want to but because they’re obliged to,” he said through Gomez who translated from Spanish.
He said small farmers in Guatemala struggle for land access and cannot produce their own food. Those who try to defend their land have been prosecuted, arrested or assassinated. He said the situation is similar in Honduras where most of the caravan migrants have come from.
Instead of a moment of silence, Gomez suggested people applaud the caravan migrants who lost their lives, which is what the CCDA does when a member of the committee is assassinated.
For Beata Elliott, executive member of the Dalhousie Amnesty International Society, that was the most emotional part of the event.
“It’s really awful that people lost their lives just trying to escape a really bad situation,” she said.
Participants made signs to show their support for the migrants. Organizers urged everyone to take pictures and post them on social media using #migrantcaravan.
“If you see instances of racism and xenophobia, shut it down,” said Castillo. “Write to your members of Parliament, write to your prime minister, write to any political figures that are in your sphere to try to get the message that immigrants are welcome in Canada. And that immigrants, especially refugees, deserve a safe home here.”