Guatemala: Migrants can now call home for free in El Ceibo

28 July 2017
Guatemala: Migrants can now call home for free in El Ceibo
Staff of the ICRC mission in Guatemala visit the shop where Andrés offers assistance to migrants in transit at El Ceibo. CC BY-NC-ND /CICR/F. Panetta

Each year, thousands of people, mainly Central Americans, undertake the perilous journey to the north of the American continent in search of a better life for themselves and their families. On the way, these migrants face untold hardship, physical and mental exhaustion, and loss of dignity. They have little or no access to basic services. In addition, they easily fall prey to different forms of violence, including sexual. Many people disappear along the way.

The ICRC, in coordination with the Guatemalan Red Cross and other local and international organizations, provides different services for migrants on the road, including free phone calls. This is part of its Restoring Family Links (RFL) programme, aimed primarily at preventing disappearances and reducing the anguish of the families awaiting news back home. Thanks to free phone calls, migrants can let their loved ones know how and where they are, and where they plan to go next.

In addition to the work done by humanitarian organizations, some local people along the route have been working selflessly for years to alleviate the suffering of the thousands of migrants who pass through the region. One of them is Andrés who runs a grocery store in El Ceibo, a small village on the border with Mexico. Before starting to receive support from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Pastoral de Movilidad Humana (PMH), for seven years he provided transiting migrants with drinking water and a place to stay in his own home, a modest structure adjoining his shop.

The ICRC decided to back Andrés' efforts by giving him a mobile phone, so the migrants could contact their families free of charge. He now also has a poster on his wall and leaflets to distribute containing self-care messages, illustrations of precautions to take, and a map showing the free assistance posts for migrants along the way. He can now also provide the countless people who arrive dehydrated at his home with water purified using ecological filters.

There is no brighter hope for the ICRC's humanitarian work than the existence of people like Andrés, who devote their lives to helping those in need.

Andres shows ICRC staff the path migrants use to cross the border

Andrés shows the ICRC staff the path the migrants use to cross the border between Guatemala and Mexico. CC BY-NC-ND /CICR/F. Panetta