Africans brave jun­gles to get to US

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

AS EUROPE tight­ens its im­mi­gra­tion reg­u­la­tions, many refugees flee­ing con­flicts in African coun­tries which are deemed “safe coun­tries” by the EU, are now at­tempt­ing to make it to the US through dan­ger­ous jun­gle routes.

Ahmed Ali Has­san was one of 100 refugees, many from Africa, who were be­ing smug­gled in a truck through ru­ral Nicaragua last month.

He said he used a rock to make a small hole in the side of the con­tainer truck in or­der to breathe as the over­crowded truck drove through the jun­gle.

“We all thought we were go­ing to die,” Has­san, a 24-year-old univer­sity stu­dent from So­ma­lia, who used a fake name, re­called. “We were not treated with dig­nity.”

Has­san had paid a hu­man smug­gler $1 000 (R13 460) to guide him over­land through Cen­tral Amer­ica to reach Mex­ico in the hope of cross­ing into the US. He is lucky not to have suf­fo­cated. In Oc­to­ber, im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials in Mex­ico’s Ver­acruz state found four refugees dead in a truck that smug­glers had aban­doned. Most of the refugees in that truck said the worst part of the jour­ney was the six-day-long trip across the Darien Gap, a moun­tain­ous rain­for­est that strad­dles Colom­bia and Panama.

An­other African refugee, Cho­fong Be­trand and two friends from Cameroon, also sur­vived the jun­gle odyssey. Be­trand, who be­longs to Cameroon’s mi­nor­ity English-speak­ing peo­ple, said he was briefly jailed by state se­cu­rity forces.

“We want in­de­pen­dence. French Cameroons take ev­ery­thing for them­selves,” the 21-year-old univer­sity stu­dent said. “There’s fight­ing. They don’t want to give us our in­de­pen­dence,” Be­trand said, as he queued for three hours out­side a Mex­i­can mi­gra­tion of­fice hop­ing to get a tem­po­rary 20-day per­mit.

The hard­est bit of the jour­ney is yet to come. Mi­grants still have to reach the US bor­der, and then cross it with­out get­ting stopped by bor­der agents.

“A mighty hand is guid­ing us,” Be­trand said. “No one does this jour­ney twice.”

The routes to Europe have be­come more dif­fi­cult, said Claudette Walls, head of the field of­fice for the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion in the Mex­i­can city of Ta­pachula.

“What’s hap­pen­ing in the Mediter­ranean is that it’s be­com­ing more and more haz­ardous and dif­fi­cult to take that route,” she said. “Through Latin Amer­ica, com­ing all the way up to Mex­ico and then on to the US has be­come an­other route.”

Many refugees from Africa fly to Ecuador and Brazil where few visa re­stric­tions al­low an easy point of en­try into the Amer­i­cas. Last year, Mex­ico recorded a 500 per­cent in­crease in African mi­grants and refugees cross­ing the coun­try to­ward the US bor­der. Be­tween Jan­uary and Au­gust 2015, Mex­ico reg­is­tered 1 513 cit­i­zens from African coun­tries, but last year – for the same period – 7 366 peo­ple were reg­is­tered.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

African refugees ar­rive by boat in Ta­pachula, Mex­ico, near the Gu­atemalan bor­der.

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