Migrant Caravan in Mexico Changes Course, but Dangers Still Lurk

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A caravan of Central American migrants traveling to the United States has changed its intended route to avoid the Texas-Mexico border — a move that shows even such a large group remains vulnerable to powerful criminal organizations operating in Mexico.

The caravan now aims to reach the United States by way of Tijuana, instead of through the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which borders Texas, the Los Angeles Times reported. The migrants, which left Honduras in October, have rerouted onto the much longer but safer path toward California, to avoid one of the most dangerous Mexican states for migrants.

This decision comes amid a report that prosecutors in the state of Puebla are investigating the alleged kidnapping of 100 migrants, including 65 children, HuffPost Mexico reported. There are, however, conflicting reports about what happened to the migrants.

Oaxaca Ombudsman Arturo Peimbert first spoke of the alleged mass kidnapping on November 5. He said it happened while the migrants were moving through the state of Veracruz, another high-risk region.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Three people who claim they managed to escape the kidnappers have now given statements to authorities. One woman, who was not identified, said eight hooded men had stopped the fruit truck they were traveling in. She also said one attacker boarded the truck and told the group they had been “sold.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The report of an alleged mass kidnapping and the decision of caravan leaders to change course shows that this journey is still one of the most dangerous in the world as criminal organizations continue to take advantage of the steady flow of vulnerable people traveling through Mexico.

Migrants and asylum seekers are exposed to the entire spectrum of criminals in this region: from small independent groups working along the border to large organizations and gangs known to kidnap, extort, prostitute, and even murder migrants.

SEE ALSO: Violence against migrants

For migrants, the shortest route to the United States is to the southern tip of Texas, requiring them to trek through the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, a stronghold for criminal organizations.

For years, the Zetas controlled this area. In 2010, the group orchestrated the massacre of 72 migrants in the municipality of San Fernando.

The later splintering of the Zetas and other cartels in the region led to a rise in violence, particularly against migrants, who continued to be victims of kidnappings and extortion. Corrupt Mexican police and immigration officials only exacerbated this situation, colluding with criminal organizations or even extorting migrants directly.

With the added risks, the journey for migrants has become costlier. Central Americans now pay nearly $10,000 to cross the US border illegally, up from less than $3,000 a decade ago, according to the New York Times.

Reducing costs and gaining safety in numbers were key reasons why such a large group of migrants joined this caravan. Its large size, media attention, and dedicated leadership — all unusual features for caravans — have allowed it to largely remain together, Carolina Jiménez, Americas deputy director of research at Amnesty International, told InSight Crime.

Caravans in the past, however, have tended to fracture as they approach the US border. And that is the point where they become even more vulnerable to criminal organizations, as may have occurred with the reported kidnappings in Veracruz.

When groups are smaller, it’s “difficult to confirm attacks against caravan members,” Jiménez said.

More caravans are following the first one. Another group of some 2,000 migrants, mostly Salvadorans, is “getting much less attention,” she said.

“We are afraid not everyone will stay with the larger group,” Jiménez said. “And this could be a situation where they become victims of criminal gangs and organized crime.”

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