Hundreds of migrants dropped off at Sky Harbor airport

Up to 400 refugees and migrants have arrived in Sky Harbor every day in recent months, many without paid airfare.

PHOENIX — The number of people traveling to the southern border to seek asylum is straining Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport after hundreds of migrants showed up without reserved tickets, forcing its staff to provide assistance in outside of his normal duties, the airport mentioned.

About 300 to 400 refugees and migrants have arrived by bus each day for the past few months “unprepared to travel”, airport spokeswoman Heather Shelbrack said in a statement. “We don’t have an exact figure.”

The airport said many migrants had no money or basic necessities like food or diapers. Upon arrival, many need help buying a flight or calling someone to buy a flight for them. Sky Harbor’s customer service and operations teams provided the use of telephones and translation services, according to the release.

If someone arrives and cannot book a flight for that day, the airport said staff contact the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a nonprofit organization in Phoenix. When they can, the IRC sends a bus to pick up refugees and migrants who need to stay overnight or need additional services or support, the statement said.

“We understand that they are often at full capacity and we appreciate the services they are able to provide,” Shelbrack said.

“We appreciate the effort to establish a system that ensures everyone who arrives at the airport has a flight reservation and is ready to travel.”

Why do migrants arrive at Sky Harbor?

Most of the migrants were dropped off by the Regional Center for Border Health (RCBH), a non-profit organization in Yuma, which said it had helped more than 16,700 migrants who were released by immigration authorities over the past 12 months.

“We serve more or less 300 people a day,” said Amanda Aguirre, president and CEO of the nonprofit. “We actually pick up a lot of families from the detention center.”

When the migrants are picked up, the association tests them for COVID-19. If they test positive, they are quarantined in the hotel rooms provided. The agency provides these people with food and clothing if needed, and is on an average bus to Phoenix within an hour, due to the large number of people the center sees.

RCBH has six buses that can carry 50 people at a time. The first bus leaves at 10 a.m. and the last around 2-3 p.m.

“One challenge we had was that on the bus we didn’t have Wi-Fi [for migrants] to get confirmations of their flights on the bus,” Aguirre said. “A lot of people were like, ‘I contacted my family, they’re going to send me my confirmation, some got it before we got on the bus or between here and Phoenix.

The nonprofit has installed Wi-Fi on buses in a bid to help refugees and migrants connect with their families, but not all are able to do so before reaching Phoenix, where people have the option of going to a shelter, a bus station or the airport.

“For those who don’t plan to travel or who can’t reach their sponsors, we encourage them to let us know so we can… make arrangements for them,” Aguirre said. “But a lot of migrants don’t want to stay in a shelter.”

Aguirre said that in some cases, migrants who have not made solid travel plans, still ask to be taken to the airport and since they are not law enforcement, cannot legally detain anyone or tell them what they can and can’t do, they drop out at Sky Harbor.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement told 12 News they also do airport drop-offs.

With the agricultural season almost over and a reduced number of migrants needing to be quarantined, Aguirre said they will be able to have more hotel rooms available to them to accommodate any migrant who has not booked a ticket. plane.

“It’s a collective humanitarian response,” she said. “We are doing this for a humanitarian reason, and we will support the families whatever their wishes.”

Effects of migrants arriving at Sky Harbor

The constant flow of “unprepared to travel” migrants has not only changed the way airport staff operate, but has also forced the IRC to change its after-hours operation when called upon by airport staff. the airport.

“We saw between a dozen and 60, 70, 80 people being referred to us from the airport or other partners overnight,” said Alex Miller, director of asylum seekers and families at the nonprofit. nonprofit Phoenix. “We have fewer staff at night.”

Miller said they usually plan for some capacity, but when we have people late at night, it’s more difficult for them to provide the necessary services.

The IRC said it did not always meet demand and some migrants had to stay overnight at the airport.

“The current flow is not sustainable,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema said after a roundtable with border officials and leaders on Wednesday. “Airport staff are neither trained nor qualified in the area of ​​providing short-term humanitarian or physical support to migrants.”

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