Profile of asylum seekers using corridor running north through Central America is changing
CBC News, by Lisa Laventure, on Feb 22, 2017
One of the world’s busiest migrant corridors runs from Central America through Mexico.
For decades, migrants from the northern triangle of that region — Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — have fled countries plagued by endemic levels of violence and crime in the hopes of crossing the Mexican border and eventually seeking asylum in the United States.
But migration experts say the profile of those using that route is rapidly changing.
With European borders tightening and increased anti-immigration anxiety in the United States, a rising number of migrants from as far away as Africa and Asia are turning to the Central American migrant corridor in the hopes of reaching a new promised land: Canada.
Tapachula, in the Chiapas region of Mexico, is a key transit hub on the Mexican-Guatemalan border. CBC News met dozens of migrants there, young men and women who fled their homes in Somalia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia, Eritrea, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Haiti.
Many say they began their journeys — which take between three and five months and cost upwards of $20,000 US — with Canada in mind. Others changed their plans and want to reach Canada in fear of U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
All have faced extraordinary journeys to reach Tapachula — threatened by smugglers, robbed at gunpoint, trekking through jungles with little food or water.
The majority of African and Asian migrants enter South America through Brazil or Bolivia, countries that in some cases they can enter without a visa.
They travel by boat, bus or foot through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala — countries that grant them temporary visas of 20 days to transit through the country — before reaching the Mexican border.
Almost none speak any Spanish. They are easy targets for violent smugglers and extortion by immigration agents along the well-trodden route.
Most say they met migrants of their country of origin in almost every country they crossed.
By the time they reach the Mexican border, they are often travelling in groups of between five and 20 people.
They cross into Mexico by raft at an informal but dangerous river crossing used to transit guns and drugs as well as people.
Whereas most Central American migrants pay approximately $1 US to cross, African and Asian migrants are charged nearly 10 times as much.
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