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WHO WE AREThe International Organization for Migration (IOM) is part of the United Nations System as the leading inter-governmental organization promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all, with 175 member states and a presence in over 100 countries. IOM has been active in Central America, North America and the Caribbean since 1951.
Our WorkIOM is the leading inter-governmental organization promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all, with presence in over 100 countries, and supporting 173 member states to improve migration management. Across the region, IOM provides a comprehensive response to the humanitarian needs of migrants, internally displaced persons, returnees and host communities.
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Wilson, a 25-year-old Honduran, had recently started his journey towards the United States. On the night of September 7, Wilson was staying in a shelter for migrants in Ixtepec in southern Mexico. Ten minutes before midnight the earth started to shake so hard, fell out of his bed. “It seemed like the end of the world”, he recalls.
The 8.2 magnitude quake in Mexico was recorded as the strongest in the country’s history. Another Honduran immigrant, Joel, who was trying to cross irregularly into the United States, was flabbergasted by the sound of the earth moving, by seeing buildings crumble down and witnessing a person fainting in the middle of the street.
When the earth stopped moving, Joel, Wilson and other migrants were staying at the shelter. They started talking to other people who had just arrived at the shelter and they had bad news: the situation was critical. Hundreds of people were injured and remained under the collapsed buildings and the rubble. The group of migrants had the idea to stay and help out and shared it with Ernesto, one of the shelter’s coordinators. The next morning, they started assisting people.
Wilson, a member of the brigade.
“Migrants were the first to help”, that’s what the Mexican people of the affected communities from Ixtepec said. This brigade of approximately 30 people engaged in debris removal using their bare hands. They were digging through the debris of collapsed buildings to recover people’s belongings or to rescue the injured people they found. We only had two shovels that we found at the shelter, so we were taking turns to use these rescue tools. When one person was using a shovel, everyone else was using their hands”, explained Wilson. A woman noticed the men trying to help and immediately offered to lend them her tools in exchange for some help to clean her house, which had also been affected by the disaster.
On September 19 Mexico was struck by a second earthquake. Wilson and most of the members of the improvised brigade were still helping to repair the damage caused by the first quake in Oaxaca two weeks earlier. Their hands were covered in blisters and wounds but with their simple tools they proceeded to help in those areas, that were hit the hardest.
“Migrants are abused and mistreated by some people. Unlike what most of those people think, we are good people” - Joel.
Solidarity was the reason why every single member of this group of migrants postponed their trip. In their hearts and their minds, they were not thinking about anything other than staying and helping the Mexican people. According to Joel, a lot of people couldn’t believe that migrants were helping, but through their actions they showed that many negative stereotypes towards migrants are false. “They were amazed by the fact that we were migrants and that we were helping them, because we got to some affected areas that not even the Mexicans could get to.”
Most of the members of this brigade were forced to flee from Central America. They were in search of a better life and working conditions to help their families back home. Joel decided to take this journey to help his child, and because he was being threatened by organized crime.
“The gangs in Honduras gave me 24 hours to leave the country. I had to go because if a gang member gives you 24 hours to leave, after 25 hours you’re dead.” - Joel.
Currently, Wilson and Joel are looking for a temporary job in Mexico to continue helping their families in their home countries. When it comes to assisting people, they won’t hesitate to do so.
Joel, another member of the brigade.