«People are on the move because their lives are in danger»

Colectivo de Observación y Monitoreo de Derechos Humanos en el Sureste © Photo

On the occasion of the World Day of Social Justice, we speak with Alejandro Mendizábal, head of Entreculturas’ projects in Mexico, the country he has just visited, about these migratory flows and the situations to which these people are subjected to along the way.

“What gets people going now is not the American dream, but the fact that they can’t stay in their places of origin because their lives are in danger”

More and more migrant groups are travelling through Mexico in a «caravan» with the same objective: to get away from the social injustices and violence they face in their home countries and to achieve a better future for them and their families. The most vulnerable population of the countries of the North Central American triangle – Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador – and of Nicaragua are forcibly mobilized with the aim of reaching the United States. In recent times, the political and economic situation in Nicaragua has also caused its citizens to join the ‘caravans’ in search of the North.

«More and more migrant groups are travelling through Mexico in a «caravan» with the same objective: to get away from the social injustices and violence»

Upon arrival in Mexico, the situation is compounded by pressure from the U.S. Administration to tighten its immigration policies to curb human mobility. On the occasion of the World Day of Social Justice, we talked to Alejandro Mendizábal, head of Entreculturas’ projects in Mexico, the country he has just visited, about these migratory flows and the situations to which these people are subjected to along the way.

How has migration changed in Mexico over the years?

Previously, migration was intended to be as discreet as possible, trying to cross Mexico without being discovered. But, over the years, two events have changed this dynamic. On the one hand, transit through Mexico has become increasingly dangerous, both because of the presence of organized crime and because of pressure from Mexican authorities arresting and deporting more and more people. And, on the other hand, there has been a change in the profile of the people who migrate: they have gone from being almost exclusively young men, to being a much more varied flow that includes women, families and unaccompanied minors, for whom irregular transit through Mexico is more dangerous.

How are these migrant groups on the Mexican border grouped? Can they fall into the hands of criminal groups?

Whether through social networks or the press, people begin to group together in a completely spontaneous way. You have to think that there is a very large mass of people who are on the move in Central America trying to get into Mexico. So, the caravans act as a call and people who were actually already on the move gather. The idea of migration in caravans is to be able to defend oneself or to create conditions of greater security against organized crime. The former ones were successful because they were able to cross Mexico with some security, but the Mexican authorities are becoming increasingly hostile towards migration and make the journey more difficult with arrests and deportations.

How does the migrant caravan move?

In this last caravan they have hardly been able to move from the border. The Mexican authorities allowed small groups to pass through, but the ones who passed were immediately arrested and a process of deportation was initiated. One group managed to get through last week and to walk a few miles on the road, but they were also repressed and arrested by the police. They are usually  long journeys on foot or on somewhat precarious means of transport that they find along the way, which is not without danger either. It is known that of the first caravans, several groups went up in trailers and disappeared; they have not been heard of since.

The most important migratory flows in Latin America are those from the Northern Triangle. How does the caravan move from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador?

In transit through Central America, as they are not in an irregular situation, they can transit freely through the different countries. Mexico is beginning to cover its border and prevent Central Americans from passing through, which generates on the other side of the border, in Guatemala, a very large number of people in street situations trying to enter.

There is a new phenomenon for which there is practically no care device. In Brazil, above all coinciding with the sporting events of the Olympics and the World Cup, there was work and some possibility of life. Many Africans and Haitians went there to work and now they are also moving north. The journeys are so long that some family groups have even had several children during their displacement. There are African families who have children with Brazilian passports who can now have children with Mexican nationality too. Many are crossing the Darien, a jungle area on the border between Panama and Colombia, the only stretch of the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego that has not been built. There is no possible land communication there other than walking through the jungle, evidently exposed to criminal groups and abuses by the police or the army.

Where are these people headed? What’s their motivation?

They were people who had the American dream and wanted to come to the United States. But what sets people off now is not that dream, but the fact that they cannot go back to their places of origin because their lives are in danger. In many cases they are fleeing situations of extreme violence; in others, they are people whose situation was unbearable in their countries. That is why Mexico is increasingly a destination for them.

And, within that population, which do you think is the most vulnerable?

They’re all vulnerable, in the sense that they are people with scarce resources. When they arrive in Mexico they are in an irregular situation and they are all susceptible to arrest and deportation. But, clearly, women, family groups, unaccompanied minors and people from the LGTBI collective are by far the most vulnerable.

When they arrive in Mexico, what social assistance do they need to cover?

People who arrive in Mexico and ask for shelter face a long and uncertain process because they do not always get it. In addition, due to the conditions of the process, they are kept confined to the place where they request it. For this reason, especially in Tapachula, where the Jesuit Refugee Service is working, there is a very high number of women and family groups who have to wait for months for their application to be processed in extremely precarious conditions.

What is Entreculturas’ work in Mexico in this context?

People who arrive in Mexico and ask for shelter face a long and uncertain process because they do not always get it. In addition, due to the conditions of the process, they are kept confined to the place where they request it. For this reason, especially in Tapachula, where the Jesuit Refugee Service is working, there is a very high number of women and family groups who have to wait for months for their application to be processed in extremely precarious conditions.

«The work that JRS does in Tapachula is, above all, the reception and psycho-social support of people who are going to start a refugee process»