Migrants risk their lives to reach North America. This

Nabil Anas

Global Courant

The current19:34At the border with Guatemala, migrants face a choice

After traveling 3,000 kilometers across Latin America, a little boy reached a migrant reception center on the border between Honduras and Guatemala last month — and ripped into a sack of treasure.

- Advertisement -

Among the granola bars and stuffed animals provided by aid workers, he found a new set of pencil crayons and a notebook full of dinosaurs. He sat down at a table to color, with the unbreakable focus of a child at play.

On that day in mid-May, the boy’s grandmother sat in a chair and let the air conditioning dissipate the 40°C heat outside. Nearby, his mother sat cross-legged on the floor, within reach of an electrical outlet to charge her phone and scroll through social media.

It was a moment of calm made possible by the Attention Center for Migrants and Refugees (CAPMiR) in El Cinchado, on the Guatemalan side of the border. Aid workers at the center, set up last year by the UN refugee agency, greet exhausted travelers at the border and offer them medical help, legal advice or even some shelter from the hot sun.

The Attention Center for Migrants and Refugees (CAPMiR) offers peace and advice to migrants and refugees in El Cinchado, on the Guatemalan side of the border with Honduras. (Nicolo Filippo Rosso/UNHCR)The young Venezuelan woman who reached CAPMiR last month, traveling with her son and mother. (Nicolo Filippo Rosso/UNHCR)

Like many migrants before them, the Venezuelan family had risked violence and exploitation along the way. They crossed the perilous Darién Gap, a roadless expanse of jungle, forest and waterways where Panama meets Colombia and Central South America.

- Advertisement -

“We were walking in the jungle for two and a half days… we joined others, so many people were walking in step,” the boy’s grandmother said through an interpreter. The Current has agreed not to reveal their names for fear of repercussions for their families back home.

“Some fell behind us, others went ahead. Sometimes we were 50, sometimes 20, even less. And when we were alone, we stopped and waited for others so we wouldn’t be alone,” she said.

“Many on the trip told us never to be alone, wait for the men because if you are a woman people can take advantage and cause harm.”

- Advertisement -

She said they saw abandoned clothes and shoes all along the Darién Gap, which is known for heavy rainfall and flash floods that can kill people. But it was a river crossing in the last stretch that caused fear in the family.

“Those canoes filled with water, there the child saw crocodiles, we saw crocodiles,” said the boy’s grandmother

“I was scared, there were a lot of people on those canoes and they could capsize,” she said.

The El Cinchado border crossing on the border between Honduras and Guatemala. (Nicolo Filippo Rosso/UNHCR)Trucks make up a large portion of traffic at the El Cinchado crossing on the Honduras-Guatemala border. (Melanie Gallant/UNHCR)

The six-year-old boy and his grandmother left their home in Venezuela in April to pick up the boy’s mother in Ecuador, where she had been working. They headed north together, hoping to leave Venezuela’s economic uncertainty behind and build a new life in the US

After the Darién Gap, they passed through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras, finding work here and there to further pay for the journey. Sometimes, after paying to reach the next destination, they were delivered to someone who demanded further payment before letting them go.

That is estimated by the UN refugee agency by 2022, nearly 20 million people were displaced in Americaan increase of 17 percent compared to 2021. About a third are internally displaced, but research shows the number of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers trying to enter the US has reached an all-time high.

Part of that elevation is linked to Title 42, a pandemic-era policy that allowed U.S. border officials to quickly expel migrants across the border. Nothing stops those migrants who try to cross again, creating a growing number south of the border. The policy, which took effect in 2020, led to 2.7 million evictions before it expired last month.

For the Venezuelan family resting at CAPMiR that day, the US-Mexico border was still more than 2,000 miles away.

LOOK | People smugglers ask migrants to enter the US from Canada:

People smugglers ask migrants to enter the US from Canada

Along a stretch of the Canada-US border, human trafficking networks are taking advantage of another route to the American dream for people fleeing Mexico’s poverty and violence.

Center offers relief, advice

Migrants and refugees who reach CAPMiR have often been through a lot, says Alex Burns, head of the field unit at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the region.

“Many of them have been walking for days, months, so they need urgent medical attention – many are dehydrated,” she told The Current.

“(We) give out hygiene kits and water, small snacks and also information about, you know, the justice system and how to access the asylum system,” she said.

Burns said the people reaching the center are very relieved.

It consists of converted shipping containers, converted into rest areas, bathrooms and showers, and play areas for children. One container contains a Red Cross nurse who provides medical assistance, others serve as administrative offices and private rooms where refugees can receive legal advice on asylum applications. A group working with UNHCR runs a shelter about 20 minutes away where people can get a meal and a night’s sleep.

The center helps a “dynamic and diverse” mix of people, who come mainly from Honduras and Venezuela, Burns said, but also from other parts of Latin America or even as far afield as China. The direction of travel is both ways, she added, as some people return to their home countries after not finding what they need further north.

“We see everything from families with small children to the elderly, people with disabilities… LGBTQI+ (people), women who have fled the violence,” she said.

“I would say the common thread is that they are very vulnerable.”

Alex Burns is head of the field unit at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the Izabal region of Guatemala. (Melanie Gallant/UNHCR)The Red Cross facility at CAPMiR. A nurse stationed there can provide medical assistance to those in need. (Nicolo Filippo Rosso/UNHCR)

Part of the centre’s work includes identifying particularly vulnerable migrants who may be fleeing violence or persecution, and helping them understand their rights in relation to seeking asylum.

“We want to encourage them to apply for asylum here in Guatemala. The government has been very responsive in receiving and processing their asylum,” Burns said.

That effort is rooted in the risks that emergency responders know lie on the road.

“Any time someone … is really forced to make the decision to leave everything behind and go on a trip, there’s a lot of risk involved,” Burns said.

“I think here in Guatemala we have the resources, capacity and infrastructure we need to… give them the opportunity to stay here and build a life for themselves.”

Carlos Gamboa works as a money changer on the Guatemalan side of the border between Honduras and Guatemala. He speaks with some migrants and refugees as they pass by. (Nicolo Filippo Rosso/UNHCR)

Money changer gives advice at the border

As a money changer on the Guatemalan side of the border, Carlos Gamboa said he is often saddened when he sees the stream of people passing on their way north.

“I’ve seen families, entire families – mother and father and children – some of them walking,” he told The Current.

“They risk their lives to go. Many of them go without money, travel only on foot or ask (for a) ride to go to Mexico.”

The 67-year-old works at the border five days a week from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., exchanging Guatemalan Quetzals and Honduran Lempiras for the truckers crossing the border.

He will sometimes exchange money for the migrants and refugees passing through, but says it is usually not more than enough to buy some food.

Burns said there is mixed migration at the El Cinchado intersection. Some people move for economic reasons, others flee violence and persecution. Some crossings take place at the official control point; others don’t. (Nicolo Filippo Rosso/UNHCR)

When people ask for advice on where to find transportation, Gamboa said he and other money changers urged them to “think at least twice – don’t go without some security”.

But “people who come from Venezuela say, ‘No, we have traveled 2,000 kilometers,'” he said. “They go, they go on, they want to move forward.”

Burns said one of the challenges of her job is that “there’s really no way to just look at someone and know what their story is, or why they’re on their way.”

The lesson in that is to “regard each individual as a human being,” she said.

“No one would want to leave their home and leave behind all their possessions and loved ones and risk their lives on this most dangerous journey if they were not obliged to do so,” she said.

“The international community should welcome them with open arms and try to alleviate some of that suffering.”

People lined up to see border officials at the El Cinchado crossing last month. (Nicolo Filippo Rosso/UNHCR)

Chasing a dream

Back at the center of attention, the Venezuelan grandmother told The Current that she misses the two daughters and grandchildren she left behind.

“My husband died a year ago, and he was really supportive,” she said.

She doubts she would have made the trip had he been alive, nor does she recommend the trip to others: “I’d say don’t do it, don’t come.”

But she added: “Now we’re here and I can’t go back. And I have to move forward.”

Her daughter said she was planning to go to the US where she has relatives on her father’s side. She intends to work hard, give her son a good education and eventually buy a house for all of them.

“I see it (as being) beautiful, my life there,” she said.

The young Venezuelan woman wants to go to the US to work hard and build a future for her family. (Nicolo Filippo Rosso/UNHCR)

The grandmother said she decided to make the trip to “fulfill my daughter’s dream.”

“What more can a mother do than guide her child so she can achieve what she wants,” she said.

After an hour downtown, the family packed their few belongings and continued their journey north.

Migrants risk their lives to reach North America. This

America Region News ,Next Big Thing in Public Knowledg

Share This Article