EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — A UN agency has rented a Juarez hotel and is now housing migrants recently deported from the United States for up to 14 days there.

The point of the so-called “filter hotel” is to ensure that the deportees aren’t coming in with COVID-19 and spreading it at migrant shelters or among the general population, local officials said on Tuesday.

Jeremy MacGillivray, adjunct mission director in Mexico for the International Organization for Migration speaks with Border Report via Zoom.

“They have to stay for 14 days and then be channeled to shelters throughout the city. It’s open to all persons in a state of mobility whether they are in the (Migrant Protection Protocols) program or waiting for (asylum) appointments or are Mexicans” who were deported, said Jeremy MacGillivray, adjunct head of the Mexico mission of the Organization for International Migration (OIM).

The agency has rented the Flamingo Hotel on Triunfo de la Republica Avenue for the next 60 days to house up to 108 migrants at a time. On Tuesday, it accommodated 23 new arrivals.

The migrants go through a routine health screening and are either assigned a room or placed in isolation for the next two weeks. Doctors from Cuba and Venezuela — migrants themselves — will provide medical services at the hotel under the supervision of a local physician. Local government officials are providing supplies and paying other expenses.

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“We’ll send them to shelters according to their profile — whether they’re families, women, children or single men,” said Dr. Leticia Chavarria, the hotel’s medical coordinator.

Juarez officials said the new facility is needed not because shelters are full but because new arrivals have to be screened and housed in a single space with access to medical services. In fact, the migrant population in Juarez has seen a reduction since the pandemic began, local officials say.

“We’re talking about two clusters of migrants, those in the shelters and those on the outside,” said Alex Rigol, OIM field office coordinator. “We have 1,430 (migrants) in 18 or 19 shelters. […] There is another group in dispersion for which we have no exact numbers but that we calculate at 4,000 to 5,000 people.”

The Leona Vicario federal government shelter has 360 migrants now but closed its doors to new arrivals in December due to a measles outbreak. Of the two largest church-run shelters, Casa Migrante is down to 195 people and Buen Pastor to 35, Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada said.

U.S. authorities have sent more than 20,000 Central American and other migrants to Juarez on the MPP program since last year, in addition to thousands of Mexicans who are routinely deported.

Cabada said the city has provided services to newcomers at its own expense since the migrant surge began in late 2018. And since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the border, he says migrants have been provided facemasks, hand wash, access to telephones and computers and offered half-price bus tickets to return to their place of origin. He says many migrants, particularly Mexicans, have accepted the bus tickets lately.

MacGillivray said it’s true some migrants opt to go back home, but others keep trying. “Some seek to return to their communities, others go to a different border community and others no doubt try to cross (illegally) into the United States. But many have stayed,” he said.

And whether they’re here for a few days or appointments in U.S. immigration court that are many months away, the OIM and a cluster of private and government entities in Juarez are working closely to provide them services, MacGillivray said.

COVID-19 represents “the same threat to everyone, but mobile populations are particularly vulnerable,” he said. Migration “is complex and affects everyone, so it implies the type of interdisciplinary coordination we are seeing now that involves government and civil sectors and the migrants themselves.”

The IOM is exploring similar projects in Tijuana and Mexicali, Baja California, he said.

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