Most Dangerous Journey: What Central American Migrants Face When They Try to Cross the Border

A group of 33 Central American womeA group of 33 Central American women traveling in a caravan across Mexico in search of migrant relatives (Photo Credit: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

A group of 33 Central American women traveling in a caravan across Mexico in search of migrant relatives (Photo Credit: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images).

By Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General

The scrub-lands and desert in Mexico’s northern state of Coahuila are the last stop for Central American migrants before attempting to cross the border into the USA.

By the time they reach Saltillo, Coahuila’s capital, they have made a perilous journey of nearly 2,000 kilometers. Along the way, many of these men, women and children suffer assaults, robbery and abduction by criminal gangs. There are also reports of extortion and ill-treatment by police and immigration officials. Tragically, some migrants are killed before they even get this far.


Hacking Away at Threats

mobile phone activate

Developing an App to securely capture and transmit photo and video

In a little over a week, I’ll make my way to San Francisco to participate in an innovation event that represents the cutting edge of the promise of science and technology in the fight for human rights.

Colleagues from Amnesty International will simultaneously be convening in Berlin, and in both cities, Amnesty and their partners Random Hacks of Kindness, (with their apt slogan “Hacking for Humanity”) will seek practical solutions to the very real threats that refugees and migrants face in transit in Mexico and the Mediterranean in a two-day “hack-a-thon.”

As an aside, for those wedded to the pejorative association with ‘hack,’ ‘hacking,’ ‘hackers,’ a hackathon event is “a gathering of technically skilled individuals focusing on collaborative efforts to address a challenge, issue, or goal.” In this case, the challenge is significant.

Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children are ill-treated, abducted or raped as they travel through Mexico without legal permission as irregular migrants. As we’ve tragically seen as people have fled Libya and elsewhere in North Africa, the “Mediterranean takes record as most deadly stretch of water for refugees and migrants in 2011“.


Exploitation of Nepal’s Migrant Workers

Nepal migrant workers

Families of migrant workers in Morang district, Nepal, 2011, who were interviewed by Amnesty International.

 “Migrant workers from Nepal and other countries are like cattle in Kuwait.  Actually, cattle are probably more expensive than migrant workers there.  No one cares whether we die or are killed. Our lives have no value.” –N.R., domestic worker from Ilam district, Nepal

Anyone who has waited for a flight at Kathmandu, Nepal’s international airport has seen the large groups of men and women quietly lining up to board flights for Qatar or Malaysia, many appearing nervous, clutching only their papers or a small bag of belongings.

But the men and women boarding these flights have reason to be nervous. While some Nepalese migrant workers arrive in the destination country and earn decent wages, others end up in forced labor or exploitative conditions.

These are some of the estimated 25,000 people a month who leave Nepal for work abroad to escape poverty and unemployment at home and to send remittances back to their families in Nepal.


Migrants in Mexico at Risk of Mass Kidnapping, Torture, Abuse

“To put this in perspective, more people are dying in Mexico than Afghanistan.” –General Barry McCaffrey

Pictures of migrants whose relatives have no news of since they left for the US © Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

Despite a violent “war on drugs” that started five years ago, Mexicans are experiencing an increase in organized crime and drug-related violence along the Mexican border. Other criminals are not the only, perhaps even primary, target of violence.

As it has become more difficult to conduct drug trafficking due to efforts from the Mexican government, organized crime is targeting migrants from Southern Mexico and Central Americans who are attempting to reach the United States.


Migrants’ Rights: A Visual and Verbal Journey

By Amalia Greenberg Delgado, Immigrants’ Rights Coordinator

“You don’t imagine that your dreams can end in a moment on this journey… he [the soldier] pulled me by the hand and told me to walk further into the bushes. He took me far away from the train tracks until we were completely alone. He told me to take my clothes off so that he could see if I was carrying drugs. He said that if I did what he said he would let me go.”
Margarita (not her real name), a 27-year-old Salvadoran migrant, describing how she was sexually abused by a soldier, Amnesty International interview, June 2009.

Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children travel without legal permission through Mexico to reach the United States. They flee poverty, war, environmental disasters and are enticed by a promise of freedom and a chance to join their families in the North. Some disappear on the journey without trace, kidnapped and killed, robbed and assaulted or sometimes falling or thrown off speeding trains. Some suffer arbitrary detention and extortion by public officials along the way. The litany of abuses and repeated attempts to reach the United States are testaments to the determination migrants have to build a better life.

At the Annual General Meeting (AGM) this past Saturday, March 19, 2011, Amnesty International USA heard from leaders in the movement about increased human rights abuses of migrants on both sides of the United States’ southern border. Father Solalinde, a human rights defender and director of a migrants’ shelter in Oaxaca, spoke of the “globalization of love” and the absolute right to dignity that must be afforded to all human beings. His soft spoken words did not lessen the blows of his words as he reminded us of the struggles that migrants face.