Guatemala is not yet ready to handle the coming wave of migration

Honduran migrant caravans are no longer news. The last one tried to form last April, but it was diluted by the multiple police blockades; very few entered through blind spots, but were arrested and returned to Honduras for violating sanitary regulations.

However, this does not mean that irregular migration no longer occurs, it has simply changed modality. Proof of this is the million and a half undocumented persons who have been apprehended by the United States on its southern border in 10 months.

Guatemala must prepare to face the gradual massive influx of migrants, not only from Central America, but also from other countries on the continent and even from, analysts say.

Until recently, some 20,000 migrants, mainly Haitians, were stranded in Necoclí, a border municipality in the department of Antioquia, Colombia, hoping to cross into Panama and continue on to the US Other estimates speak of 30,000 people.

The trajectory of most of them includes Central America and, of course, Guatemala.

The humanitarian situation is beginning to get complicated, according to Colombian media reports. The authorities of that country and Panama have agreed to allow the passage of 500 migrants a day, but the problem is that between 1,000 and 1,500 more arrive daily.

They do not care about the fearsome passage through the Darien natural reserve, a jungle mass of 575 thousand hectares that they cross with the help of human traffickers. Going back to Haiti, living in miserable conditions, is not an option.

Also read: The painful decision of a migrant requesting asylum: continue to flee or save his daughter’s life

Another bulk of Haitians are leaving Chile, a country that until before the pandemic was the benchmark for their migration and where they had been living for years, but where it is making it impossible for them to obtain legal residence as a result of a law promulgated by President Sebastián Piñera last April who gave them six months to regularize their situation and requirements are almost impossible to complete. The deadline expires this October 17.

Crossing the Darien Gap involves many risks. (Free Press Photo: EFE)

Pass through Guatemala

Humanitarian organizations that protect the rights of migrants are concerned about the passage through Guatemala of these groups of migrants, the little institutional capacity that exists to serve them and the great plot of corruption and illegality that surrounds these migratory movements.

Recently a report by Prensa Libre revealed the increase in migrants who have arrived in Esquipulas, Chiquimula, the majority Haitians. He also revealed how they suffer extortion, even by Guatemalan authorities to let them pass.

The Casa del Migrante José, which normally serves many Hondurans who arrive in Esquipulas, confirms that for about three months there has been a sustained increase in travelers of other nationalities, especially from Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Also read: Why remittances can mean a high cost for the development of Guatemala

In a month, they can serve up to 800 people who are given food, psychological help, lodging for one to three nights and guidance if they need shelter or asylum.

That number does not include the hundreds who only go through a spare part to continue on their way, nor does it include Haitians, Cubans, and from other Latin American countries and from other continents who travel with coyotes and who are sheltered – not to say hidden – in hotels. Low cost

Thousands of Haitians are taken to Esquipulas, often seen on the streets. (Free Press Photo: Hemeroteca PL)

For the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH), the authorities, at a minimum, must guarantee the safety of migrants and prevent them from being victims of common violence or organized crime or abuses by the security forces.


“The PDH has verified and received complaints, and they refer to the fact that the Police take away their belongings, intimidate and extort money – from migrants – in order to obtain some benefit and this speaks very badly of society,” said Eduardo Wolkte, defender of the Migrants of that institution.

Regarding the migration of Haitians, Wolkte comments that the authorities should pay attention to the mechanisms used to transfer migrants since, according to testimonies, they get visas to enter certain countries, which later turn out to be false.

Also read: The uncertain leap from diversified to university, will young people be prepared?

The testimonies that the PDH speaks of are consistent with those of many undocumented immigrants who arrive at the Casa del Migrante José. “It is regrettable that Guatemala is taking advantage of the poverty and vulnerability of these thousands of migrants who transit, instead of reaching out to them,” said Judith Ramírez, coordinator of that headquarters in Esquipulas.

People who come to ask for help, said Ramírez, have been told that in the stretch of just 10 kilometers from the border there are three police checkpoints and they have had to leave money to allow them to pass. If they are prohibited from traveling, they should return them to where they come from, but “in no way bribe them,” he added.

A police checkpoint in the vicinity of Esquipulas. (Free Press Photo: Carlos Hernández)

The director of the National Civil Police (PNC), Héctor Leonel Hernández, said that the 23 police station agents who participated in the checkpoints would be investigated, but to date no results have been produced.

Interior Minister Gendri Reyes confirmed that “there is an entire investigation process” and that it is about identifying the existence of coyotaje structures and migrant smuggling that may operate in that region of the country.

But the official numbers suggest few results.

This year, according to Panamanian authorities, more than 96,000 migrants have entered that country irregularly, especially Haitians. On the southern border of the United States, there is a 30,000 dam, which suggests that 65,000 would be in transit.

Also read: The 10 facts of the incredible and sad history of Haiti

However, the Guatemalan Migration Institute (IGM) barely reports the detection of just under 500 Haitians and 266 migrants from other parts of Latin America, the Caribbean and from other continents.

IGM director Estuardo Rodríguez stated that they are “very concerned” about the increase in the flow of migrants and assured that there are already “good conversations” with the countries involved to apply protocols.

Regional effort

Úrsula Roldán, director of the Institute for Research and Projection on Global and Territorial Dynamics of the Rafael Landívar University, considers that this migratory phenomenon must be approached with a regional approach since Guatemala alone with its “precarious” conditions cannot do it.

Haitian migrants try to cross the Rio Grande, the border between Mexico and the United States, after having traveled thousands of kilometers. On the border between these countries, it is estimated that there are about 20 thousand stranded. (Free Press Photo: AFP)

He said that a lot of collaboration is needed between countries and responsible governments that work hand in hand with agencies such as UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration so that migrants can be received, duly documented, provided temporary shelters, attend to those who need refuge and asylum and define which countries can accept them.

But when a country does not have optimal conditions and does not coordinate with other nations, the only thing that is limited is deportation, he said, when there are thousands who cannot return to their countries of origin because their lives are in danger.

Roldán believes that with this increase in irregular migration, the big winners are the coyotaje gangs, since migrants, like drugs, “sadly are becoming a commodity” and traffickers manage to move them from country to country as of place.

“There are many sectors winning. The governments themselves have spent great resources in securing their borders ”and of course, he remarked,“ the illicit networks that are now transnational and no longer just the coyote of a community in Huehuetenango ”.

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