A newspaper investigation has shed light on the role “coyotes” and corrupt Peruvian police play in a trade that sees thousands of migrants from Haiti illegally smuggled into Brazil via Peru as they desperately seek a new life in this South American economic giant.
Reporters from Brazil’s Folha visited the tri-border region between Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, where, according to the newspaper, the migrants face the most dangerous part of their journey.
They detailed how migrants fall into the hands of human smugglers, known as “coyotes.” Migrants pay up to $4,000 for the services of these coyotes, who often rob them, extort them and subject them to terrible conditions.
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According to Folha, before undertaking the last part of the journey, coyotes keep the Haitians locked in hotel rooms in Puerto Maldonado — capital of the Madre de Dios gold mining region of Peru — 233 kilometers from the Brazilian border town of Assis, in Acre state.
Corrupt Peruvian police also take a cut of the profits, reported Folha. They tax the drivers who take the migrants across the border, and extort the migrants themselves under threats of deportation.
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Since the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, residents of the impoverished island nation have poured into Brazil searching out economic opportunities. While migratory flows have traditionally pointed north, Brazil has become a popular choice because of its status as Latin America’s largest economy. This has contributed to its rise not only as a center of undocumented migrants, but also sex trafficking and slave labor.
The route from Haiti to Brazil usually starts in the Dominican Republic. From there, migrants fly into Ecuador — a country known for its lax migration policies — and travel by land down through Peru.
Both Peru and Brazil have taken measures to stem the resulting human smuggling trade. In March, Peruvian authorities began a campaign informing migrants of the dangers of crossing the border illegally. The state government of Acre, Brazil, meanwhile, requested a temporary shutdown of the border crossing with Peru in January, and more recently, Brazilian authorities launched their own information campaign.
However, halting the trade will be a challenge. Madre de Dios is a largely lawless territory rife with illegal mining and forced prostitution, while Brazil’s expansive shared borders have proven hard to control. As Folha indicates, official corruption in Peru is also likely an important facilitator of the trade.