Le Pays De France - Anxious wait for Ukrainian asylum seekers at Mexican-US border

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Anxious wait for Ukrainian asylum seekers at Mexican-US border
Anxious wait for Ukrainian asylum seekers at Mexican-US border

Anxious wait for Ukrainian asylum seekers at Mexican-US border

After fleeing Ukraine by train and flying to Mexico via Spain, Natalia Poliakova found herself stuck at the border with the United States 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) from home seeking asylum.

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"The US government says 'we'll help you' but now we've been on the street for days," Poliakova told AFP at a border crossing where a dozen Ukrainians and a handful of Russians and Belarusians were waiting.

"We're welcome (in the US) but we are not allowed" to enter, she said.

Poliakova feels the same frustration as the thousands of Central American migrants who are turned away at the southern US border each year.

In 2014, another Russian invasion had forced the 25-year-old graphic designer to leave her native Crimea and take refuge in Kyiv.

Just two months ago she had found a well-paid job in Ukraine, but left in a hurry again when Russia attacked on February 24.

After reaching the Ukrainian border, she continued to Budapest, Barcelona, Bogota and Mexico City before finally arriving in Tijuana, which borders San Diego in California.

Poliakova has used her English to help fellow Ukrainians communicate with US authorities at the San Ysidro border crossing, one of the world's busiest.

In recent days, Tijuana has seen a growing number of Ukrainians arriving to ask US border officials for asylum.

But the wait is long with a trickle of families and adults accompanied by children allowed through.

Poliakova hopes to join an aunt who lives in the United States, but said she planned to return to Ukraine in the future.

"We all want to go back home to rebuild" the country, she said.

Artem, a 23-year-old Ukrainian sailor, was in the Arctic aboard an Italian ship when Russia invaded, so he too traveled to Tijuana hoping to join family in the United States.

"I only came here because my sister lives there. If my sister lived in any other place I'd go there," he said.

According to figures from the US Customs and Border Protection, arrivals of Ukrainians at the Mexican-US border have increased in recent months after a drastic drop in 2020 and 2021 amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In January, 248 Ukrainians crossed the southern US border, according to official data.

A 40-year-old from Russian ally Belarus, who identified himself as Andrei, said that he left his country with his wife on February 7, fleeing political persecution.

He wants to be reunited with relatives in the United States.

"If I go back to Belarus, I go to prison," he said.