Migration routes in Latin America full of deadly risks


Q24N – Nothing could stop the people of Latin America from setting out in search of a better life – not the tougher entry conditions to different countries, the rugged terrain, weather disasters or the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite deadly risks and pandemic restrictions, migrants in Latin America continue to seek better lives elsewhere

Migration in Latin America has increased due to economic uncertainty, security concerns and political crises. The situation in Venezuela alone has created more than five million migrants, most of whom, around 4.6 million, are accepted by other countries in the region.

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“While the pandemic has disrupted many facets of our daily lives, the reasons people flee – conflict, insecurity and other factors – have not ceased,” William Spindler told DW, spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for Latin America. “In fact, the total number of refugees and migrants in the Americas increased by 8% in 2020 from the previous year. “

A woman with a baby crosses the Acandi River in Colombia, which leads to the swampy and treacherous Darien Gap

There are two main patterns of movement of migrants in the region. One is north, through Central America, crossing Mexico and ending in the United States. The other is interregional, that is to say it takes place between the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. In recent years these migratory routes have been dominated by Venezuelans but Colombians and people of other nationalities are also represented.

Navigate an obstacle course

Borders between countries constitute major obstacles in the journey of migrants. Like an obstacle course, these obstacles must be overcome and overcome in order to cross borders between countries and advance to a final destination.

Stricter entry requirements – both by individual states and due to restrictions linked to the pandemic – have failed to curb migration. Instead, they just made the trip more dangerous.

A priest in Agua Fria, Panama, during the funeral of a group of deceased migrants in the Darien Gap

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When migrants cannot cross the border at legal crossings, they use illegal border routes called “trochas”, often risking their lives.

“Many people travel on foot, taking irregular border crossings and crossing rivers, jungles, high mountain passes and deserts, and crossing the ocean in barely seaworthy boats,” said Spindler of the UNHCR. “Many lose their lives or face serious dangers at these crossings, including human trafficking and smuggling, sexual and gender-based violence, labor exploitation and extortion by gangs and gangs. criminal groups, ”he added.

The smugglers, variously called “coyotes”, “chuteros”, “chamberos” or “trochéros”, are paid to accompany the migrants along the route. They offer their services for, sometimes, huge sums of money that people pay in desperation. However, in many cases, they fail to reach their destination.

“The only safe passages are the official passages”

Some level crossings are known to be particularly dangerous. In Latin America, many migrants cross the border between Colombia and Panama via the Tapon del Darien, or Darien Gap ”, an area of ​​marshy jungle presenting many dangers. There are no land routes across this natural barrier between the two countries.

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“The Darien Gap is the most dangerous part of the route to the United States. Basically, all migrants who want to go to Central America have to cross that border, ”Jessica Bolter, analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, told DW.

“There are criminal gangs that attack migrants, sexual assaults and flash floods that take people and drown them. Many migrants are running out of provisions. As they traverse the jungle, they can be injured or abandoned by the group they are traveling with if they cannot run as fast as the others, ”added Bolter.

For his part, UNHCR spokesperson Spindler warned that the only safe border crossings are official crossings: “In recent months, many countries in the region have gradually reopened their borders to refugees and migrants.

“UNHCR continues to call on states to provide access to their territory and asylum procedures to people who have left their countries due to persecution, violence, rights violations and conflict.

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