The COVID-19 pandemic has brought, to many of us, new levels of stress, uncertainty, and anxiety. Thousands have been laid off, the numbers of sick people continue to rise, and even something as simple as going for a walk, or even shopping, carries with it a sense of threat. But, there are few places where this stress is as acutely felt as in the migrant shelters for refugees and asylum seekers that line the border between the United States and Mexico. Since March, the border has been closed to all but those making essential journeys. Although this move was a mutual decision of the US and Mexican governments in order to help limit the international spread of COVID-19, the consequence of this is that the immediate futures of all the migrants stranded on the Mexican border have become all the more uncertain.
Even before this, migrants and asylum seekers were forced to wait months in shelters that are often overcrowded and have limited access to health and sanitation services for the chance of an asylum hearing or permission to cross the border. Many migrant facilities and accommodation centers have stopped allowing new arrivals, resulting in homelessness and food insecurity among migrants and asylum seekers, with nowhere for them to stay.
At the same time, migrants continue to suffer exploitation, abuse and violence. In 2019, the New York Times discussed the widespread sexual violence, forced drug dependency, and sexual servitude of potentially hundreds of migrant women on both sides of the border. On top of this, there has been an unusually large number of miscarriages reported in women detained in migration centers or living in shelters. Partially in response to this, a number of formal and informal women’s shelters have opened, yet, as more people come to the border, to be turned away, these shelters have been stretched beyond capacity.
Additionally, many of the refugees and migrants lack certain skills to adequately compete in the American job market once or if they are able to resettle in the United States. This could have the effect of prolonging the uncertainty and difficulty of their daily lives to the foreseeable future. It is estimated that some 60,000 asylum seekers and migrants are stranded on the Mexican side of the US border. The difficulty of their daily lives is compounded by the uncertainty of their futures. In 2020 alone, 129 migrants died by the border with that number, tragically, likely to rise. Unfortunately, the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon, even before the new restrictions many thousand were waiting in Mexico for asylum hearings, hearings where success is far from guaranteed.
This is the situation where One Digital World will operate. Last year Casey Myers, founder and Executive Director of One Digital World, successfully launched its curriculum in Samos, Greece to refugee women from Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Iraq, Syria, and other countries throughout Africa and the Middle East. There, although many of the women had never used a computer before, they were taught digital skills and conversational English. Unlike other non-formal educational organizations, those who studied the whole curriculum received certifications in typing and digital literacy and learned to build working laptops using only a blueprint and problem-solving skills. Some graduates earned additional training to become Computer Lab Coordinators, a valued member of the One Digital World team.