Haitian migrants' tortuous journey ends in Mexico limbo

·3-min read

After weeks on the road, traversing mountains and jungles, risking assault and drowning, thousands of Haitian migrants hoping to reach the United States have instead found themselves stranded in Mexico.

Many embarked on the journey encouraged by family and friends already living the American dream -- but who often failed to mention the dangers that lay in wait.

Tens of thousands of migrants, including many Haitians previously living in South America, are stuck in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula, waiting for documents that would allow them to continue.

Those who tire of waiting or run out of money try crossing Mexico anyway, hoping not to be caught by the authorities and deported to Guatemala.

But when they reach the border with the United States, they find themselves trapped again.

Thousands of migrants, many of them Haitians, are now crowded under a bridge in Texas after crossing the Rio Grande river, hoping to be allowed into the country.

Despite the hardships, migrants keep pouring into southern Mexico from Guatemala.

- Fleeing quake fallout -

Every night, Murat "Dodo" Tilus wakes with an excruciating pain in his arm -- the result of a fall on a Colombian mountain on his way to the United States, where he hopes to join his brother.

He set off from Chile with his wife, daughter and two grandchildren on August 8, leaving a country that had welcomed him following the 2010 earthquake that left 200,000 dead in Haiti.

"My house collapsed (in the quake), my relatives died, then I decided with my wife to go to another country," the 49-year-old electrician told AFP.

But the "Chilean dream" began to fade in 2018 when the government imposed measures making life harder for migrants.

These days in Chile, "it's very difficult to get a work permit. Everything became more expensive, so people want to leave to look for a better life", he said.

He and his wife Rose Marie raised about $5,000 for the journey, setting off by bus.

After a month-long odyssey crossing 10 countries, they arrived in Tapachula.

Now, they sleep in a room in a home that they share with four other Haitian families, while they wait for an appointment to process their refugee claim.

It is only thanks to money sent by Tilus's brother that they are not sleeping in the streets like some migrants.

The Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance is struggling with a backlog of requests for documents.

So far this year, it has arranged about 77,559 permits for migrants, compared with 70,400 for all of 2019.

Hundreds of migrants tried to cross Mexico on foot this month in caravans but were blocked by the Mexican authorities.

"I want to continue (to the United States) legally," Tilus said.

- Perilous journey -

Judith Joseph fled to Chile from Haiti in 2017 after one of her three children was murdered.

Despite suffering from ailments including diabetes and difficulty walking, the 43-year-old set off on July 10 and arrived in Tapachula nearly two months later with her other two children, Samuel and Cristelle.

The worst part of the journey was crossing the Darien Gap, an area of jungle between Colombia and Panama infested with armed gangs and drug traffickers.

They saw some migrants drown, while others lost their few belongings.

Life in Haiti, where his mother worked in a market, was equally difficult, said 11-year-old Samuel.

"There were mice in the kitchen at night. During the day there were always Haitian soldiers shooting outside the house," he said.

Now they share a room with others on the outskirts of Tapachula, while they wait for refugee status to continue a journey that Samuel wishes they had never begun.

"I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay in Chile," he said.

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