The jungle between Colombia and Panama has become a highway for migrants


MEXICO CITY (AP) — Once nearly impenetrable to migrants heading north from Latin America, the jungle between Colombia and Panama became a dangerous jungle this year. fast but still dangerous highway For millions of people around the world.

Driven by economic crisis, government repression and violence, migrants China I decided to risk three days of deep mud, fast flowing rivers and bandits to get to Haiti. Enterprising locals offered guides and porters, set up campsites and sold supplies to migrants, using color-coded wristbands to keep track of who paid for what.

Due to social media and Colombian organized crime, more than 506,000 migrants – about two-thirds of Venezuelans – have crossed the darien forest By mid-December, double the 248,000 that had set a record the previous year. The year before last, the record was barely 30,000 in 2016.

Dana Graber Ladec, Mexico's head of the U.N.'s International Organization for Migration, said migration flows to the region this year are "historic numbers that we have never seen."

A wooden migrant boat rests on a rock at the edge of mangroves at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier, Florida on January 19, 2023.  (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

A wooden migrant boat rests on a rock at the edge of mangroves at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier, Florida on January 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

A migrant standing behind razor wire on the banks of the Rio Grande River, seen from Matamoros, Mexico, on May 11, 2023, gestures to Texas National Guardsmen.  (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

A migrant standing behind razor wire on the banks of the Rio Grande River, seen from Matamoros, Mexico, on May 11, 2023, gestures to Texas National Guardsmen. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

This was not only in Latin America.

The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea or Atlantic on small boats to reach Europe has increased this year. According to the European Commission, more than 250,000 irregular arrivals were recorded in 2023.

A marked increase compared to recent years, the number is well below levels seen in the 2015 refugee crisis, when more than 1 million people came to Europe, the majority fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Were. Still, the surge has fueled anti-immigrant sentiment and laid the groundwork for tougher legislation.

Earlier this month the British government had announced strict new immigration rules The aim is to reduce the number of people able to travel to the UK each year by hundreds of thousands. Authorized immigration to the UK set a record with almost 750,000 in 2022.

a week later, French opposition lawmakers reject an immigration bill Without arguing with President Emmanuel Macron on it. Its purpose was to make it easier for France to expel foreigners deemed undesirable. Far-right politicians charged that the bill would increase the number of migrants coming into the country, while migrant advocates said it threatened the rights of asylum seekers.

in Washington, The debate has shifted From efforts to open new legal pathways at the start of the year to measures to largely keep migrants out, as Republicans try to take advantage of the Biden administration's push for more aid to Ukraine to tighten the U.S. southern border. Have been.

America started the year by opening limited places Venezuelans – as well as Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians - Entering legally for two years with a sponsor in January, while Mexico expels those who do not qualify. their numbers decreased somewhat for some time before climbing again with renewed vigour.

Venezuelan Alexander Mercado was back in his country for only a month after losing his job in Peru, before he and his partner decided to move to the United States with their newborn son.

The Venezuelan minimum wage then was the equivalent of about $4 a month, while 2.2 pounds (one kilogram) of beef was about $5, said his 28-year-old wife, Angeles Flores.

“Imagine how someone $4 per month salary Survives,” she said.

Mercado, 27, and Flores were already on their way when the US announced in September that it was Providing temporary legal status to more than 470,000 Venezuelans Already in the country. Weeks later, the Biden administration said it was resumption of deportation flights For the South American nation.

Mercado and Flores managed to advance in three days on well-trodden paths through the jungle. Flores and his son, in particular, became very ill. They believe they were infected by contaminated water they drank along the way.

"There was a body in the middle of the river and the 'Zamuros', those black birds, were eating it and tearing it apart... it was all flowing down the river," he said.

For Mercado and Flores, the journey intensified once they left the jungle. In October, Panama and Costa Rica announced an agreement to increase the flow of migrants into their countries. Panama sent the migrants by bus to a center in Costa Rica where they were detained until they could buy bus tickets to Nicaragua.

Nicaragua also appears to have opted for a rapid flow of migrants through its territory. Mercado said they crossed on buses in a day.

After discovering that Nicaragua has lax visa requirements, Cubans and Haitians arrive in Nicaragua on charter flightsHe never intended to buy a roundtrip ticket. citizens of african countries Avoiding Darien, a circuitous series of connecting flights were made through Africa, Europe and Latin America to reach Managua to begin the journey toward the United States.

In Honduras, Mercado and Flores were given a pass from authorities that allowed them five days to transit into the country.

Adam Isakson, an analyst who tracks migration at the Washington Office on Latin America, said Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras give migrants legal status when they move to countries that have limited resources, and allow migrants to enter the country legally. Countries create them by allowing passage. Less vulnerable to extortion from authorities and smugglers.

Then there are Guatemala and Mexico, which Isakson called "countries that we pretend to stop you from" attempting to score points with the U.S. government.

For many this means spending money to hire smugglers to cross Guatemala and Mexico, or exposing themselves to repeated extortion attempts.

Mercado did not hire any smugglers and paid the price. "It was very difficult to go through Guatemala," he said. “The police kept taking money.”

But that was just a taste of what was to come.

Standing outside a Mexico City shelter with her son on a recent afternoon, Flores recounted all the countries she's visited.

“But they don't rob you as much, don't extort you as much, don't deport you as much as when you get here to Mexico,” she said. “Here the real nightmare begins, because as soon as you enter they start taking a lot of your money.”

Mexico's immigration system was thrown into disarray on March 27 when migrants held at a detention center in Juarez, the border city opposite El Paso, Texas, set fire to mattresses inside their cells in an apparent protest. The highly flammable foam mattresses filled the cell with thick smoke in an instant. The guards did not open the cells and 40 migrants died.

The director of the immigration agency was among several officials charged with crimes ranging from negligence to murder. The agency closed 33 of its smaller detention centers while it conducted the review.

Unable to detain many migrants, Mexico instead circulated them around the country, using brief, repeated detentions, giving them the opportunity for extortion, said Gretchen Kuhner, director of IMUMI, a non-governmental legal services organization. Did. Advocates called this "política de desgeste", or policy of desistance.

Mercado and Flores flew across the border from Brownsville, Texas, to Matamoros, where they were detained, held for a night in an immigration facility in the border city of Reynosa and then flown 650 miles (1046 kilometers) the next morning. South of Villahermosa.

There he was released, but without his cell phone, shoelaces and money. Mercado had to wait for his brother to send $100 so they could try to get back to Mexico City via an indirect route that required them to travel by truck, motorcycle, and even horse.

At the end of November, he was back in Mexico City again. This time Mercado stated clearly: they would not leave Mexico City until the US government gave them an appointment to request asylum at a border port of entry.

"It's really hard to get back here," he said. "If they manage to send me back again I don't know what I'll do."

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AP writers Maria Verza in Mexico City, Juan Zamorano in Panama City and Renata Brito in Barcelona contributed to this report.



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