The United States has sharply increased the number of Ukrainians it is admitting into the country through Mexico.
Officials in the Mexican city of Tijuana said last week that about 1,000 refugees from Ukraine were waiting to cross into the U.S. Tijuana sits just across the border from San Diego, California.
The Mexican city has become a final stop for Ukrainians seeking refuge in the U.S. as Russia continues its military campaign in Ukraine.
Information has spread on social media that a volunteer group is helping to guide hundreds of refugees daily from Tijuana’s airport to temporary shelters. The group is made up largely of Slavic churches in the western United States.
In less than two weeks, the volunteers were able to set up an effective network that provided food, security, transportation and shelter, The Associated Press reported.
Refugees generally spend two to four days in the shelters before receiving approval to enter the U.S. They are permitted to enter on a program that aims to meet urgent humanitarian needs.
U.S. officials said they started processing Ukrainians on April 6 through a pedestrian crossing in San Diego that had been temporarily closed to the public. The crossing seeks to process 578 people a day with the help of 24 officers, said Enrique Lucero, Tijuana’s director of migrant affairs.
“We feel so lucky, so blessed,” said Tatiana Bondarenko. She traveled through Moldova, Romania, Austria and Mexico before arriving in San Diego with her husband and three children. She said her goal was to reach Sacramento, California, to live with her mother, who she had not seen for 15 years.
Another Ukrainian family took pictures near a sign for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at San Diego's San Ysidro port of entry. Volunteers offered food to refugees who waited for family to pick them up or for buses to take them to a nearby church.
“We realized we had a problem that the government wasn’t going to solve, so we solved it,” said Phil Metzger. He is with Calvary Church outside San Diego. Some refugees stay in the homes of church members, while others sleep on temporary beds inside the church.
Metzger told The Associated Press that Ukrainian refugees seeking to reach the U.S. through Mexico see it as an easier path than seeking refuge in busy Europe, where millions of Ukrainians have settled.
The administration of President Joe Biden has said it will admit up to 100,000 Ukrainians. It set an overall refugee limit of 125,000 in the 12-month period that ends September 30. But only 8,758 had been accepted by March 31, including 704 Ukrainians.
One refugee reaching Mexico was 36-year-old Oksana Dugnyk. She said she fled the town of Bucha with her husband and three young children. The family left before Russian troops invaded. After Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, Ukrainians discovered many bodies on the streets and in mass graves.
Dugnyk said at first she worried about the violence in Mexico because she has children. But the large volunteer presence in Tijuana helped make her feel safe. “We have food. We have a place to stay," Dugnyk said a day after arriving in Tijuana. She added: "We hope everything will be fine.”
After crossing the border, her family was planning to travel to Ohio to stay with a friend.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
church – n. a building where Christians to worship God
pedestrian – n. a person who is walking and not traveling in a vehicle
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