Hundreds of thousands of people cross Central America every year in hopes of entering the United States, most of them migrants fleeing violence and poverty in the Northern Triangle and, more recently, from other continents and areas in conflict, such as Syria or Eritrea .
With just 7.2 percent of the world’s population, the Caribbean, Central America and North America are home to almost 25 percent of all migrants in the world and experience unique migratory flows, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Six million of them have fled the three small countries of the Northern Triangle: El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
In its latest annual report, Amnesty International described the Triangle as “one of the most violent places in the world, killing more people than in most areas of conflict on the planet. Of many people was overshadowed by the action of criminal gangs. ”
Gang activity “increased with the arrival of gang members expelled from the US and with the influence of drug cartels in the region,” AI explained in his analysis “Home Sweet Home.”
Extreme violence resulted in more than 15,000 murders in 2016.
Homicide rates in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala were 108, 63.8 and 35 deaths per 100,000, respectively, according to official data for 2015. In the US, one of the most heavily-armed countries in the world , The index was 4.4 in 2014.
The payment of money from extortion, sustenance of “maras” (gangs), represents 3 percent of the GDP of El Salvador, but the data rubs 16% if you add what Salvadorans spend on security and what they lose Of income because violence prevents them from working.
Each year, extortion reaches 390 million dollars in El Salvador, 200 million in Honduras and 61 million in Guatemala, according to figures from the Honduran National Anti-Extortion Force.
“Murders, kidnappings, threats, recruitment by non-state armed actors, extortion, sexual violence and forced disappearances: these are the realities of war zones and conflicts that the peoples of this region of Central America also have to face, The head of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mission in Mexico, Bertrand Rossier, said in May.
In the report “Obligated to flee the North Triangle of Central America, an ignored humanitarian crisis,” MSF called for “coordinated action to ensure that these people in transit are safe from violence and persecution (and) are received with international protection in Place of more violence “.
In the last exercise of Barack Obama in the US, Congress granted the Governments of the Triangle $ 750 million to stop “irregular migration.”
THE DANGEROUS TRIP TO THE NORTH
“What there is, without a doubt, is an increase in the push factors in Central America that continue to make more migrants decide to cross our country. The vast majority of them are hooked with a trafficker,” Efe told the Director of Immigration Control National Institute of Migration of Mexico, Mario Madrazo.
Minors who flee from the “maras” before being recruited, entire families who fear for their life, tens of thousands of people pay traffickers to arrive at the USA through Mexico, in a illegal business multimillionaire and also bloody.
In its 2017 Armed Conflict Survey, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) ranked Mexico as the second most lethal conflict in the world. With 23,000 intentional homicides in 2016, it was only surpassed by Syria.
“It is very rare that criminal violence reaches levels similar to those of an armed conflict, but this is what has happened in the Northern Triangle” and “especially in Mexico,” the IISS said.
There are figures that speak of the fact that, since 2006, more than 120,000 migrants have disappeared in Mexico on their way to the US and that 80% of women and girls are raped in that way, according to the essay “Tell Me How It Ends “By Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli.
“Criminal gangs are heavily involved in smuggling migrants across Mexico,” according to IOM, which estimates the volume of business of kidnapping and extortion of migrants in Mexico at $ 250 million a year.
Between $ 6,000 and $ 20,000, a Salvadoran coyote is interviewed by Efe for every migrant who travels to the United States through Mexico. With the maximum price, all “necessary collaborators” and a “guarantee” of up to three attempts to complete the trip are paid.
A good part of the migrants cross Mexico perched in the wagons of the network of freight trains known as La Bestia, which they board in the southern Tapachula or Tenosique.
Of the three main routes that cross Mexico, one arrives until Tijuana (west) and faces with the wall that now Donald Trump wants to extend, the other crosses the desert until arriving at Nogales (center) and the third, the shortest and dangerous , Transits zones of the organized crime until Reynosa (east), where it crosses the river Bravo.
Migrants must pay for their “protection”, sometimes participating in the crime itself.
“The narcos have sniffed a good deal with the traffic … And you can force a migrant to transport things that he does not want in a thousand ways. I’ve seen blankets for that,” a Costa Rican excoyote told Efe .
Many fail to arrive: the IOM Migrant Missing Project recorded in 2016 just over 700 migrants killed on their way north: 27 in South America (mostly on the Colombia-Panama border), 175 in Central America, 105 in the Caribbean and 400 on the US-Mexico border.
This border line, the deadliest, registers 6,330 migrants who have died in the last 20 years.
Most of the 955 deaths recorded in the 2014-2016 period perished in the sands of the Arizona desert or in the waters of the Rio Bravo (called Grande in the USA).
Despite the risk, the flow has continued to grow since 2011.
According to the IOM, 40% of irregular immigrants in the US – some 6 million people – were born in Central America or the Caribbean.
Their contribution is vital to the livelihood of their countries.
The 2.8 million Salvadorans living in the US sent remittances in 2016, which accounted for 16.4% of El Salvador’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In Honduras, with 1.2 million emigrants, the data rubles 20% of the GDP, or 4,000 million dollars, and in Guatemala, with two million emigrants, was 18%.
THE ANGER OF DEPORTATION
For the undocumented, the hell of arriving gives way to the anguish of being returned.
Only in 2016, the US deported nearly 78,500 irregular migrants to the Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala), according to official data.
The number of Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans deported by Mexico – which in 2014 launched the South Border Migration Containment Plan – has risen from 62,788 in 2010 to 141,990 in 2016, according to its National Immigration Institute.
Amnesty International, which estimates that 400,000 irregular migrants cross Mexican territory every year, found in its 2016-2017 report an “unprecedented” number of asylum applications in Mexico in 2016: 6,898 until October, 93% of people in the Northern Triangle , But only 2,162 concessions of refugee status.
Throughout the world, refugee petitions for Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans grew 597% between 2010 and 2015, which shows, according to AI, a “very real change in motives for migration”, which are no longer as economical as Of fleeing violence in lawless societies.
The UN Refugee Agency estimates that Mexico will receive an additional 20,000 asylum applications in 2017, a figure that “is a clear indication that Mexico is no longer just a country of transit but also a destination for refugees.”
Massive expulsions from the United States and Mexico ignored the “overwhelming evidence that many asylum seekers were at risk of extreme violence if they did not obtain it.” Many people returned to the deadly danger situations they had fled from, AI reported.
This is the case of Juan, a Honduran who in 2014 was forced to flee after surviving two shots of the “maras”, who had already killed one of his brothers.
Juan arrived in California, USA, “but the gringos took me there and deported me” in 2015. Since then, he has tried to settle in Tapachula (Chiapas, Mexico), where he already has a wife and young son, but has been returned five times .
In Honduras, “there are no job opportunities, the gangs overwhelm me … so I decided to go back to Chiapas,” he told Efe before embarking on his new journey on foot to the north.
“I prefer to emigrate better than to die in my country,” he said.
Central America and the Caribbean are both areas of origin and transit of irregular migration.
Panama is its gateway and in 2016 it intercepted 25,438 irregular migrants on its border with Colombia: 10,748 were said to be from the Congo, although it is estimated that the majority are Haitians who want to avoid deportation, unlikely if they were Congolese.
Another 7,431 were Cubans, 1,868 Nepalese, 628 Bangladeshi, 600 Senegalese, 519 Ghanaians, and the rest from countries like Mali, Guinea, Eritrea, Somalia or Pakistan.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for Central America and the Caribbean, based in Panama, has found that trafficking networks are leading to America, through a highly coordinated network that includes flights on regular lines and passage By blind border points both at sea and on land, to migrants from Africa and the Middle East, who enter the continent through the Southern Cone.
“The trend is for us to receive more and more migrants with this profile: desperate people who have been refugees and become irregular migrants,” Amado Philip de Andrés, UNODC representative in Central America and the Caribbean, told Efe.
According to this official, migrant trafficking networks are self-financing with cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe.
“The traffickers are from Albania, they come to Greece, they go to West Africa, from there to the Southern Cone. They go up and go to countries like Colombia and take cocaine,” he said.
The drug is transported in semi-submersibles, which cost half a million dollars and are manufactured in Colombia. They can transport 2.5 tons of cocaine from the Caribbean to Mauritania, from where it is transported by the Sahel and enters Europe through Romania, he explained.
“You see on the coast of Mauritania a lot of abandoned semi-submersibles,” he said.
Migrants from the Middle East and Africa are mainly seeking to reach the United States and Canada.
Traffickers charge them about $ 17,000 for the “complete package,” which includes a passport – authentic, although with false data obtained from civil registry of countries like Senegal -, air travel and means to spend the first two weeks in the Country of arrival, usually one of the Southern Cone.
They also start arriving on regular flights, from Senegal they go to Cape Verde, from there to Fortaleza or Sao Paulo, in Brazil, and who take flights? Albanians, Serbs, Syrians, Turks, some Iraqis. Eritreans, Somalis and citizens of West Africa, “he added.
It is a business that can generate about 400 million dollars annually, according to UNODC.
Those unable to pay the full package can pay the network with “services”, so they get caught up in it.
UNODC predicts that the flow of extracontinental migrants wishing to reach the United States will increase: According to De Andrés, “it may increase by ten in the next two years”, which may generate a “buffer effect” in Central America with the reinforcement Frontier of Donald Trump.
“This issue is going to have to be of the highest priority, because it’s going to be a time bomb” in the region, he warned.
With Trump’s new policies, “what is envisaged over the next 18 months is that there is a growing tendency” for migrants to transit or leave Central America “to go north unless they take the Pacific route By boat “.
The coordinator of the Observatory of International Migration in Honduras, Sally Valladares, told Efe that the more difficult it is to cross the border with the US, the migrant smuggling business “becomes more lucrative because that means they have to charge more.”
The costs for the affected States will also increase, because of the need for more resources to protect their borders, all with the added pressure of the terrorist threat, which requires “very specific attention to certain nationalities, such as Syrians and Iraqis,” He said.