Africans brave jungles to get to US
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.
African refugees arrive by boat in Tapachula, Mexico, near the Guatemalan border.