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The quest for asylum often starts in southern Mexico, the first point of entry in the country. While in the s it attended to Guatemalan refugees fleeing civil war, in recent years it has supported refugee status requests for individuals from Colombia, African countries, and more recently the large wave of Central American migrants fleeing violence and extortion.
Statistics about refugees in Mexico note 1, requests for refugee status in Of these requests, only were granted refugee status and 35 received complementary protection. Within this group, the top four countries of origin were Honduras 99 , El Salvador 84 , Nigeria 14 , and Syria This approval rate is very low given the demand for asylum rights in the southern border region. The conditions in these sites, along with the infringements on their rights that occur there, cause many people facing real persecution to abandon their right to petition for asylum.
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Instead, they decide to join the flow of migrants who cross Mexico without receiving the international protection to which they are entitled. The Inter-American Commission emphasizes that these acts have taken place in a context of widespread violence and citizen insecurity that places children and adolescents in a particularly vulnerable position.
Note that these statistics register deportation events, not people. Two events, for instance, can be associated with the same person. Migrants traveling through Mexico to reach the U. During the past few years, many Central American migrants with whom we have spoken about their journey north report that traveling through Central America was not a problem: the violence and abuse started in Mexico.
While migrants have historically been victims of abuse during their travels, the number and severity of these abuses has increased substantially of late, as organized criminal groups operating along the migrant transit route have diversified their activities beyond drug trafficking to include human trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion.
Apart from the risks of riding the train discussed below , migrants frequently fall victim to crime and abuse when they use other transport or when they are in public areas like bus stations. Migrants have even been abducted and abused in the vicinity of migrant shelters. Of those surveyed, a staggering 52 percent reported being robbed and 33 percent reported being extorted, primarily by criminal groups.
More criminal acts were committed in Chiapas 38 percent than in any other Mexican state. Approximately 18 percent of the abuses were committed by Mexican authorities, with the Federal Police at the top of the list 35 percent , followed by municipal police forces 31 percent. These abuses included extortion, robbery, and abuse of authority, among others. Based on conversations with shelter staff as well as testimonies from migrants, it is clear that police at all levels target migrants riding on buses or combis passenger vans , interrogate them about their migration status even though they have no authorization to do so, and extort them with the threat that if they do not pay, they will be turned over to the INM.
He reported that the agents took the migrants into the jungle, removed two of them from the vehicle and threatened them, stole their money, threatened them again, and then abandoned them. Bribes routinely allow drug, human, or other traffickers to pass through unhindered.
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Where drug interdiction and migration control are concerned, they said, Mexican forces will do the bare minimum that the U. Though the borderline itself is porous, Mexico has chosen to enforce its borders further inland.
Roadblocks and checkpoints, discussed below , make it difficult to travel to the U. Difficult, that is, but not impossible. As smugglers pay fees to criminal groups and at times Mexican authorities who control the migrant routes, they are more likely to enjoy safe passage, with a significantly lower probability of abuse and violence. This map from the Jesuit Migrant Service illustrates the main cargo train lines and stops. The pink line is the far shortest route to the U. This is so for reasons that we did not hear explained clearly. Whatever the reason, the chance of encountering authorities is far lower on the tracks.
For hundreds of miles they ride on the roofs of the train cars trying to avoid fatal falls, hot days, frigid nights, and low-clearance tunnels. Every eight to ten days or so, trains depart from two routes that originate near the southern border. Now, the route starts in Arriaga, Chiapas, from where it passes through Oaxaca and north to Veracruz. This means that migrants arriving in Tapachula must walk—or risk road transport—to Arriaga, miles to the northwest. This journey, which might take a migrant two weeks on foot, is treacherous.
In order to avoid the eleven checkpoints that we counted between Tapachula and Arriaga, migrants will often dismount combis or taxis before the checkpoint, walk miles in brushland, and then board another combi on the other side of each checkpoint. In Tabasco, where 35 miles stand between the Guatemalan border and the northbound train line in Tenosique, migrants either pay to hitch a ride, or travel on foot. Along this route—a swampy stretch that often requires migrants to walk along the main road—the stream of migrants is constant.
We saw at least one hundred migrants during a two-hour, there-and-back drive. They were individuals of all ages; the majority were probably males in their late teens or early twenties, although we also saw younger teenagers, men in their 40s and 50s, small groups, and women. In the Tenosique and Palenque migrant shelters, we saw some families, often with babies, who had taken this road.
Nearly all were Honduran. Mexican immigration authorities do carry out periodic sweeps along the road, capturing migrants whom they detain or deport back into Guatemala. These sweeps are infrequent enough, though, that migrants are not dissuaded from walking on the roads between the border and the beginning of the train line. The danger of being robbed or assaulted along this mile stretch of road, especially at night, is likely greater. Some enterprising Mexican smugglers charge migrants a steep fee to drive them, usually in the backs of pickup trucks, over this distance.
This may reduce the dangers for migrants in this part of Chiapas, as they no longer will have to make their way to Arriaga to reach the train. Nevertheless, getting to the train is only one part of the dangerous journey. The same Central American gangs that have made life unlivable in places like Honduras are present all along the train lines in southern Mexico.
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Operating with very little challenge from Mexican authorities, the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs extort their countrymen as they migrate away from their countries of origin. The Central American criminal gangs—at times working with Mexican counterparts—have ensured, largely through state corruption, that they have freedom to prey upon the migrants traveling on the trains. Those who cannot pay are either abused or pushed off the train while it is moving, or prohibited from climbing aboard if the money is collected beforehand.
Honduran migrants we spoke to in Nogales, Sonora in April reported that they had seen two migrants thrown off the train because they did not have any more money to pay the fee. Individuals we interviewed expressed concern about possible collusion between criminal groups and the train company or train operator. They cited incidents in which a train stops in a remote area for no apparent reason, and criminal groups then board it to rob and abuse migrants. In other cases, coyotes human smugglers traveling with the migrants will pay the train operator to stop to let migrants climb on board.
Once the train resumes operating out of Tapachula, criminal gangs currently based in Arriaga will most likely shift their operations south, adding to an already complex set of dynamics facing migrants in this border area. This year has seen a rise in Central American gang activity in the Soconusco region; jockeying to dominate stops along the soon-to-be-restored train line is a likely reason. On the tracks in Palenque. Further north along the train line is Veracruz, which migrant defenders and shelter personnel regard to be the most dangerous segment of the journey between the southern border and Mexico City, even though surveys of migrants indicate that more abuse occurs in Chiapas.
There, heavily armed kidnappers, many reportedly tied to the Zetas, act so brazenly that, according to numerous reports, they are able to stop trains and force migrants to board their late-model pickup trucks.
Migrants kidnapped by criminal groups are taken and held in safe houses, under unspeakably brutal conditions, until relatives, usually in the United States, pay steep ransoms. Many of their captives are never seen again. Migrants on the train line, who are assumed to be carrying cash, also face the threat of regular banditry by groups of bajadores who assault and rob them.