Refugees Fleeing Violence in Central America Hope for Asylum in Mexico
Alice Proujansky, Cora Currier
A girl stands by tracks for “La Bestia.” “The Beast” was once a crowded and deadly route north. Now, with authorities cracking down, “it has become harder to ride on the train,” said Maureen Meyer, an expert with the Washington Office on Latin America, or WOLA. “It pushed a lot of migrants into more remote parts of southern Mexico, walking into more dangerous areas, and paying smugglers to get farther north.”
Women and children from Central America began arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in unprecedented numbers during the summer of 2014. Referring to the “urgent humanitarian situation,” President Barack Obama called on Congress to build new detention centers, hire new immigration judges, and increase border surveillance as tens of thousands of unaccompanied children were detained by U.S. immigration officials. At the same time, the United States backed a Mexican government initiative to increase patrols, detentions, and deportations along Mexico’s southern border. The idea was to stop Central Americans from getting into Mexico, let alone the United States.
But the gang violence, kidnappings, and extortion sending families fleeing from the “Northern Triangle” comprising El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala hasn’t stopped. The area has the highest murder rate in the world outside a war zone, and people are still coming to Mexico. Only now, as photographer Alice Proujansky documents, they are taking new routes and facing new dangers.
“Entire families arrive with little more than backpacks,” Proujansky said. “Women and children are particularly vulnerable: increased enforcement on freight trains has driven migrants to ride buses and walk on isolated routes where they face robbery, assault, and sexual violence.”
Proujansky spent time with families who were hoping to receive asylum from Mexico. There are no reliable figures on how many people cross the border with Guatemala each year, which is still porous despite increased patrols. But between 2014 and the summer of 2016, Mexico detained 425,000 migrants, according to an analysis of government statistics by the Washington Office on Latin America, or WOLA, a human rights advocacy group. In that same time, only 2,900 people received asylum. Last year, there were some 8,700 applicants, of whom 2,800 have so far received protection. (In 2014, Mexico’s refugee agency had just 15 people to screen thousands of applications.)Mom Cat, Koko like this
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