Some Ukrainians fleeing the Russian military invasion of their country are being allowed to enter the United States through its southern border with Mexico, despite a US policy to turn away most asylum seekers.
In the Mexican border town of Tijuana, Al Jazeera’s John Holman spoke to 14-year-old Dasha Krasiuk, who was travelling with her mother and father after they fled attacks on the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.
They said they travelled first through Moldova, then Romania before flying to Mexico. Ukrainians do not need a visa to enter Mexico. “It was hot. We were in the car for three nights because we were in the queue to leave Ukraine,” Krasiuk said of their journey.
The family was eventually allowed into the US, where they planned to join a grandfather who lives in Los Angeles, California.
More than three million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion late last month, according to the United Nations, with the majority finding refuge in neighbouring countries in Europe.
At least 310 Ukrainians have reached Tijuana by air this month, said Jesus Ruiz Uribe, the Mexican government’s delegate for Baja California state.
But the US-Mexico border has been closed to most asylum seekers under a pandemic-era policy known as Title 42, which allows US border officials to turn back most people trying to seek asylum.
More than 1.6 million Title 42 expulsions have been carried out since the order was first invoked by former President Donald Trump in March 2020, according to US government data.
Under President Joe Biden, who took office in January of last year, the US has continued to turn away Central Americans, Haitians and citizens of other crisis-stricken countries, drawing sharp criticism from immigrant rights advocates who have urged Biden to end Title 42.
While many rights groups have welcomed recent measures to help Ukrainians, such as extending temporary protected status (TPS) to Ukrainians already in the US for 18 months, they have questioned why asylum seekers from other countries have not been granted the same protections.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that several Ukrainians had passed through Tijuana this week and were granted permission to remain in the country until 2023. A former US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official briefed on the matter told the news agency that US authorities were granting one-year temporary “humanitarian parole” to Ukrainians.
CBP did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation from Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera’s Holman reported that people from other countries, including Russians who are critical of the war, were being turned away at the Tijuana border crossing.
Mike Shliachkov, who is half-Russian and half-Ukrainian, said he fled Russia fearing he would be conscripted into the army and forced to fight in a war waged against a country where his relatives live. “My country attacked Ukraine, my brother and sister live there,” Shliachkov told Al Jazeera from Tijuana. “It’s a shock for me.”
Mexico has registered an increase in Russians fleeing their homeland amid growing tensions. Reuters reported that Mexican and Colombian nationals seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border also were turned away.
Maryna Sokolovska, a US citizen who travelled to Ukraine to retrieve her cousin and her cousin’s child, got them into the US after a trek that took them through Poland, Croatia, Hungary, Amsterdam, Mexico City and then Tijuana.
“It felt like a miracle that after four hours, we, including a baby, were let in,” Sokolovska, 35, told Reuters. The mother and child were given leave to stay in the US for a year under humanitarian parole, said Sokolovska, a trained dentist who runs a video production company from Beverly Hills.
Sokolovska said she travelled to Lviv in western Ukraine to fetch her relatives when her cousin’s husband went to fight and the area she lived in outside Kyiv came under attack from Russian forces.
“It was crazy, she was so afraid,” Sokolovska said of her cousin. “She was saying they had run out of food.”