Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala – Jose Sica waits impatiently in his shop, with rows of pink and blue plastic children’s bicycles on the floor and untouched phone chargers and screen protectors along the wall behind him.

Looking at his empty sales log, Sica feels stuck: “Today, I barely sold two items,” he told Al Jazeera.

The opening of the store in Quetzaltenango, one of Guatemala’s largest cities, was a final gamble for Sica, who previously worked as a security guard in the United States for 14 years. It was either success with this business or migrating north again.

With the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic still seizing Central America, and with its business struggling to get off the ground, Sica began asking how much it would cost to be smuggled back to the US.

But the price has risen dramatically: when Sica migrated north in 1996, he said, coyotes – self-styled guides that bring migrants and refugees across borders in exchange for money – charged him with approximately 25,000 quetzales ($ 3,200). Today, they demand up to 140,000 quetzales ($ 18,100) – a fortune in a country where about half of the population lives below the poverty line.

The price soared amid the pandemic and shift migrating controls, according to more than a dozen sources polled by Al Jazeera. This has made an already lucrative human trafficking industry even more for criminal enterprises, while migrants suffer the heaviest from the consequences.

“If I had money, I would go right away,” Sica said. “The more obstacles they create, the more the price rises. Now it is more difficult, more dangerous and more expensive to migrate. ”

Smuggling networks expand

Costs have been rising for years, a product of increased migration barriers in the US and Mexico and the expansion of smuggling networks.

According to Carlos Lopez, the director of a migrant shelter in Guatemala City, the cost has risen significantly amid suppression during the Trump administration. This has only been exacerbated by pandemic-related border closures and mobility restrictions.

“When the authorities tighten migration policies and controls, it is almost certain that the cost to the coyotes, or as they call it in Mexico, polleros, go up, ”Lopez told Al Jazeera.

Even as COVID-19 restrictions began to loosen, other obstacles persisted. “There is poverty“There is corruption, there is abandonment by the state,” Lopez said. “So there is an emergency that has only made the pandemic worse and more visible.”

Such factors have contributed to a recent surge in arrivals on the US-Mexico border of countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Opportunistic smugglers are taking advantage of the situation, says Eduardo Jimenez, a community leader who runs a project near Quetzaltenango aimed at providing Guatemalans with economic opportunities so they do not have to migrate.

“The ambition of coyotes is to make a lot, a lot more money,” Jimenez told Al Jazeera. “They therefore utilize the need that people have to make their life situation better. And they know people will find a way to pay; the coyotes can increase the price as they please. ”

Mafias fighting for control of the passage along the Guatemala-Mexico border have also increased the level of extortion, and if you do not pay, “you run the risk of being killed mercilessly,” Jimenez said.

While caravans were once a way to avoid such forms of exploitation, this alternative “became less feasible” as Mexican authorities worked hard to caravans break up, Jessica Bolter, an analyst at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, told Al Jazeera.

View of Quetzaltenango, GuatemalaQuetzaltenango, Guatemala, also known by its Mayan name, Xelajú or Xela sits 2,334 meters (7,656 feet) above sea level [Megan Janetsky/Al Jazeera]

Globally, criminal enterprises raised an estimated $ 5.5 billion to $ 7 billion from human trafficking in 2016, According to a United Nations report. To pay, migrants take out massive loans or request money from family or friends who have already migrated. Sometimes they turn to predatory lenders, who charge interest rates of 10 to 20 percent per month. Migrants often value the only thing their family possesses as collateral: their homes.

If they fail to pay their debts – which can happen if they are detained on their travels, or deported before earning enough money in the US – they and their families can be left with nothing.

“Why did this happen to me?”

When Aracely Vail, 26, decided to migrate to the US, she obtained a loan from a relative of her husband, who had migrated seven years earlier. She left her eight-year-old daughter behind in hopes of reuniting with her husband in Maryland, and earning enough money to give her daughter an education.

Coyotes used the perception that US President Joe Biden‘s border policies are more flexible than former President Donald Trump’s in convincing people to migrate, portraying it as a definite journey with minimal risks.

Vail said it was portrayed to her that way, and she agreed with a human smuggler on a price of 135,000 quetzales ($ 17,500). They agreed that she would pay 35,000 quetzales ($ 4,500) in advance and the rest when they arrived at the border. “He told me the journey would be easy,” Vail told Al Jazeera. “He told me so many different things, and the journey was not like that. It’s just stories they tell people. “

After days of walking for more than 18 hours through the Mexican desert, Vail said she was let down by the smugglers just before crossing the U.S.-Mexico border after her group was chased by U.S. border agents. She was detained and deported back to her small Guatemalan village.

“I asked God, ‘Why? Why did this happen to me? ‘”She said. “I just wanted to go because of the poverty, because of the lack of opportunities here.”

Today she is sitting in her small two-room cottage while her daughter plays with plastic dolls in the background. As she speaks, she works glittering studs on traditional indigenous clothing and explains that she earns some money from her work.

But the one who is going to pay off her debt is her husband in the US: “You can not get that kind of money here.”

Source link

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *