Portrait of a Refugee
Project: Portrait of a Refugee
by Cory Zimmerman
Help Fund an Exhibition of Portraits of Central American Refugees Stranded on the Streets of Mexico City to Help Raise Awareness of the UN Granted Human Rights for Refugees which are being Directly Violated by the USA and Mexico by Malevolently Denying Access to Request Asylum!!
Since the 1980s, 85 percent of those who have attempted to cross Mexico’s northern border into the USA, have been from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. 50 percent are asylum-seeking refugees, and mostly children, many unaccompanied, fleeing countries that are plagued by government corruption, poverty, gang violence, sexual assault, rape, and murder. These refugees have human rights that are protected by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR as follows: “A refugee has the right to safe asylum. Refugees should receive at least the same rights and basic help as any other foreigner who is a legal resident, including freedom of thought, of movement, and freedom from torture and degrading treatment.”
In addition, they have the right not to be deported back to their country of origin if their safety or lives are in jeopardy, this being expectancy true for unaccompanied children who have the largest umbrella of protection granted by the UN council. However, all refugees are protected by law to seek asylum in the United States upon arrival at the border.
After crossing into Mexico from Central America, most of these immigrants will face a grueling journey of survival atop a dangerous freight train called “La Bestia”. This train and its routes are the epicenters of mass extortion, mutilation, murder, robberies, rape, kidnapping, and sexual assault of Central American immigrants and refugees. Most will not report these crimes in fear of being deported back to their native countries. If they managed to survive La Bestia and the cartels in Mexico, they now need to find “coyotes” to smuggle them across the highly guarded Mexican-American border, where along the harrowing journey across a forbidding desert, 80 percent of the women and children will face sexual assault and rape before voluntarily turning themselves into US authorities in desperate search of asylum. Then they will be locked up in detention centers for months with the overwhelming possibility of being deported back to their country of origin in spite of the rights granted to them by the UN. While in detention, women and children, especially those unaccompanied, face further risk of sexual assault, with 97 Percent of rape accusations met with silence.
In lieu of the rights granted to refugees by the UN, The Trump administration is stripping central American refugees of the chance to seek asylum in the USA, by deeming Mexico as a ‘safe third country’, sending them there to seek asylum instead. 80 percent of Central American Immigrants end up in Mexico City, many having abandoned their journey north due to the mounting dangers along the way, which they fear will only amount to deportation if they reach the border alive.
The central conclusion of a Human Rights First’s recent report shows that refugees face acute risks of kidnapping, disappearance, brutal violence, sexual assault and human trafficking in Mexico. They also found that Mexican migration officers often fail to refer them to asylum processing, and have returned them to countries where they face persecution.
This is especially alarming as the Trump administration tries to shift United States’ refugee protection responsibilities on to Mexico by designating it a ‘safe third country’, in spite that Refugees in Mexico have little protection against violence. The Washington Office on Latin America recently stated: “Impunity for crimes against migrants in Mexico is at alarming levels.” In addition, Detention is used to punish people who request asylum and as a threat to pressure people from applying for asylum in Mexico, in direct violation of Mexico's human rights and refugee protection commitments to the UN.
Begging on the streets of Mexico City often becomes the safer alternative to falling into the exploitative spectrum of immigrant labor, which includes too often forced prostitution. It is a common sight in Mexico City to see a young husband playing flute next to a young mother holding out a hat in one hand, with an infant in the other. Exhaustion, hunger, desperation, and fear can be seen in their eyes, yet the young husband plays enthusiastically, with just enough exuberance to hold his frail family together. It is difficult to see a family on the verge of collapse, especially when you know there is nowhere left for them to go. You look into their young eyes, they look back, and you see a human being, and you feel that soulful connection you cannot escape when you see another barely holding onto life, onto dignity, and the will to go forth, how does one not feel responsible, how does one not feel something must be done? If we can find the way to care we can find the will; if we find a connection we can find an answer.
When I am out on the street taking photos, I often see families in this situation, I see their eyes, their pain, but I almost always chose not to photograph them, for fear of making their pain worsen. But lately I have realized, if I ask for their permission to take their portrait, for a project trying to bring their struggle to light, I see many rewards. For one, this would offer them the opportunity to be apart of a larger purpose, possibly helping others stuck in the same dynamic, thus investing in their self-dignity, if even for a moment. Secondly, to pay them cash for their time and contribution to the project, thus respecting their time and image. Thirdly, to recognize them as human through honest and open communication, to recognize their human rights, and inform them there are those of us out there who are fighting for them, their rights, their dignity and their position within humanity and civilization.
For the project: Portrait of a Refugee, I have decided to attempt to raise a small amount of money, in order to provide funding for a personal translator to relay my message and intention, and also to offer an appropriate payment for each photographic subject. Lastly, to have the images enlarged for a photographic exhibition highlighting the refugee crises. I want to express how indifferent they are from the rest of us who are more fortunate, especially in the United States. They are people with beautiful eyes, beautiful minds, beautiful hearts, and beautiful smiles. They have beautiful husbands, and beautiful wives, and beautiful babies. Sometimes they are alone, and these are the ones who need to have the beauty of their souls recognized the most. It is one thing to suffer, it is another to suffer alone in a foreign land. As a photographer I want to do what I can with my limited means, but with my privilege, in spite of policy, in spite of borders and walls, in spite of propaganda and hateful trends, I wish to let at least one refugee know, that they are not alone, if even for a moment.
Lastly, I want to add, whatever progress Mexico makes on refugee protection, however, it cannot justify the US neglecting its own responsibilities to protect people fleeing persecution. This is one of the core values that’s supposed to unite us as a civilized people. And as an American living in Mexico City, I, like every US citizen, represent the United States abroad and given my rights to freedom of speech protected by the constitution, I will represent my country with compassion and love for all of humanity. With your help in a time of so much darkness, we can together shine some light, thank you for reading.