TIJUANA (Border Report) — The first thing Nabeel Younis did when he got up Tuesday morning was head for a store to buy some pants and personal items for himself and three of his fellow migrants.

It was their first day of relative independence in more than a month.

Younis and his friends had been in a migrant detention center since Dec. 8 after being arrested by Mexico’s National Guard for illegally trying to cross the border between Tijuana and San Diego.

They are now staying at a shelter operated by the Salvation Army located in Colonia Libertad, which ironically means “freedom.”

Nabeel Younis outside Tijuana shelter where he and his friends are staying for the time being. (Jorge Nieto/Special for Border Report)

All four left Panama in November bound for the U.S.

“I entered Mexico from Guatemala and from there I ended up in Tijuana and I was just about to cross the border when I was caught by the federales,” Younis said.

The 27-year-old Younis and his friends originally left Pakistan for Panama in 2019 to attend an international event with Pope Francis.

As Catholics, they saw this as an opportunity to flee Pakistan, where Christians are often persecuted, Younis said.

“I want to seek asylum in the U.S. on the grounds I want to escape religious persecution that I have suffered in my country because of my Catholic religion, that’s why I want to be in the U.S. First, to be free to practice my religion, and secondly, I believe there will be more opportunities because I speak English.”

Nabeel Younis, second from left, and his friends remain adamant about continuing their journey to the United States. (Jorge Nieto/Special for Border Report)

On their way from Central America, the four men, including Younis, stated they have been beaten, robbed and threatened.

Younis and the others have received work visas and permission to stay in Mexico, something he and his friends don’t plan on doing.

“Tijuana is not a safe place especially for migrants, and it’s precisely because of this reason I would want to be in the U.S. immediately if possible,” Younis said.