At the Colombian border, migrant families embark on a dangerous passage in the jungle
NECOCLÍ, Colombia – They line up before dawn every day, passports in hand. Thousands of migrants and their children stand for hours in this seaside town in western Colombia, waiting for a place on a boat that will bring them one step closer to the United States – on an incredibly dangerous part of the journey.
Migrants pay the equivalent of $ 40 each to take the boat from Necoclí to Acani, near the Colombian border with Panama. Next comes the most perilous part of the trek to North America: the Darien Gap, a 60-mile stretch of roadless, lawless jungle ruled by smugglers and thieves.
Panamanian authorities have recovered 50 bodies there this year, but say they believe the death toll is much higher.
About 90 percent of the estimated 82,000 migrants who have flocked to the once sleepy city since January this year were born in Haiti, according to the Colombian civil protection agency. They live in overcrowded hotel rooms or in tents along the beach, with no toilets nearby.
Utnica, 5, watches her mother wash their clothes in a bucket with soapy sea water. They are sitting by their tent under the scorching sun. They have family in Orlando, Florida. “I want to start a new life and find a job,” said Desir, her mother.
Last month, the United States deported thousands of Haitian migrants who arrived in Del Rio, Texas, citing Title 42, a Trump-era health measure that took effect in March 2020 during the Covid pandemic and remains in place under Biden’s White House.
Yet smugglers are fueling a feeling among migrants that they might be allowed to stay in the United States if they make the trip.
Over 1,000 migrants arrive in Necoclí every day, but Panama will only accept 500 a day, creating a huge bottleneck. In the United States, homeland security officials expect there may be a wave of migrants trying to cross the U.S. border in October.
Many Haitian migrants have been living in Chile and Brazil since the 2010 earthquake that left 1.5 million homeless in Haiti. They found work in those countries, until Covid wreaked havoc on Latin American economies and authorities began cracking down on undocumented immigrants, many of whom are Haitian refugees.
Fritz Nor stands by the sea in his arms with his 6 month old son King, born in Brazil. He is due to leave in two weeks with his wife and baby. Neither does he know that crossing the Darien Gap is dangerous.
But that does not discourage him. “It’s not a life for a family,” said Nor, who was a construction worker in Brazil. “I want to be a free man. I want the documents to work.”
The Chilean government requires all migrants who entered the country before March 2020 to hand over a series of documents from their country of origin, including criminal background checks to legalize their status. Most Haitians say they should return home to obtain these documents in person, as they are not available online in the country’s archaic record-keeping system.
Haitians who manage to cross the border to the United States risk being deported to Haiti. The Biden administration has expelled more Haitians than during the entire Trump presidency, according to a study by the Haitian Bridge Alliance (HBA), a southern California nonprofit that defends Haitian migrants.
Chile’s Metropolitan Police – with help from Interpol – dismantled a migrant smuggling ring on September 29 that helped migrants get to Mexico and the United States. The head of the Metropolitan Police Brigade on Human Trafficking, Giordano Lanzarini, said the group had so far this year displaced more than 1,000 Haitians, including many children traveling alone.
“We don’t have a precise figure on how many of them entered Chile, but we do know that around 50 or 60 people entered each day,” Lanzarini said of the smugglers at a conference. Press. Using the WhatsApp messaging service, the nine arrested suspects then allegedly encouraged the migrants to travel north by road.
With thousands already in Necoclí, and only hundreds allowed to leave each day, the city has now become a crucial bottleneck in the flow of those seeking refuge north.