MEXICO CITY, (AP) -- 500 Ukrainian refugees wait in a field east of Mexico's capital city for the United States to let them know they are allowed.
It has been open for only a week, and people are coming in every day. Many have been to the U.S. Border in Tijuana, where they were denied admission. Others arrived in Mexico City, Cancun or anywhere else they could find tickets from Europe.
Anastasiya Polo (co-founder of United with Ukraine), a nongovernmental organization that worked with the Mexican government in establishing the camp, stated, "We are asking for the U.S. to process faster." After a week, she said that none of the refugees were "even close to the end" of the program.
The U.S. government announced the program, Uniting for Ukraine on April 21. The U.S. government announced that the Ukrainians who showed up at the U.S. border with Mexico on April 21 were not exempted by a pandemic rule. This rule has been used to swiftly expel migrants and deny them the right to apply for asylum in the last two years.
They would need to apply from Europe, or other countries like Mexico. You must be present in Ukraine on February 11, have a sponsor (family or organization), and have passed background checks.
Polo claimed that U.S. officials told her it would take one week to process people but it seemed like it was only beginning. Some of the first arriving passengers had received emails acknowledging receipt of their documents and those of their sponsors. However, she hadn't heard of any sponsors being approved.
Polo stated, "These people can't stay in this camp because it is temporary." The camp has more than 100 residents, most of whom are children.
According to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, nearly 5.5 million Ukrainians fled Ukraine after Russia invaded its smaller neighbor, Feb. 24.
Giorgi Mikaberidze (19 years old) is among those still waiting. He arrived in Tijuana on April 25, and discovered that the U.S. border was closed. He was upset that the U.S. government didn't give him enough notice as many of his fellow travelers were already there. From being only yards away from the United States, he was now approximately 600 miles (966 km) from there.
In March, the U.S. government declared that it would accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Hundreds of people entered Mexico as tourists and flew to Tijuana to await a few days or hours to be allowed to enter the U.S. on humanitarian parole at the San Diego border crossing. There were few appointments at U.S. consulates Europe, and refugees resettlement is slow, so Mexico was the best choice.
Although the journey through Mexico was not straightforward, a group of volunteers from Slavic churches in America greeted the refugees at Tijuana's airport. They then took them to a Tijuana recreation center, where several thousand could wait. After a wait of up to four days, U.S. border officials allowed the Ukrainians to enter in a matter of hours.
Mikaberidze arrived in Tijuana with this special treatment.
He said, "We want America because we're already here, while some don't even have the money to go back."
Mikaberidze was in Georgia visiting family south of Ukraine when the Russian invasion took place and was unable to return. He said that his mother, who was living in a village near Kharkhov, eastern Ukraine, is still there, fearing to leave because Russian troops have indiscriminately shot down cars in the vicinity.
Mikaberidze was the only person to travel to Mexico and said that it was a dangerous situation.
Mexico City camp offers a safe space to wait. It was built in a large sports complex so that Ukrainians could stroll their children and push their strollers along the sidewalks.
The refugees were warned that they can leave the compound at their own risk. Iztapalapa is the capital's most populated and dangerous borough.
Polo stated that about 50 Mexican officers were providing security to the camp. A mobile kitchen was also provided by the Navy to prepare meals.
She stated that they felt safe in the camp and were interested in the possibility of the government moving it to a safer location.
Maziana Hzyhozyshyn and Mykhailo Pasternak, his girlfriend, waited at the entry to the complex on Monday afternoon. They were both suffering from an apparent headcold and planned to stay in a hotel for a few days to rest up before returning to camp.
Pasternak had fled the U.S. in order to help Hzyhozyshyn enter. They had spent several days in Tijuana, before they flew to Mexico City and arrived at the camp on Sunday.
The couple stood out in the streets of Iztapalapa, looking as if they were wilting under the relentless heat. They had been together for six years.
Pasternak declared, "She's my lover."