Mexican immigration authorities discovered 424 migrants from various African countries arrived at the southern state of Chiapas over two days last week. Mexico’s National Immigration Institute said on August 29 that they would be issued 30-day transit visas to allow passage to the U.S.Mexico border, where they plan to request asylum.
According to Mexican officials, this unusual surge of migrants traveled first to Brazil via air, and then took buses, boats, or walked on foot through other Latin American countries on their way north.
Most of the African migrants surrendered voluntarily to immigration authorities in Tapachula – a town along the Pacific coast of Mexico near the border of Guatemala. They did not identify their nationalities. In Tapachula, local immigration officials are aiding migrants from Congo, Ghana, and Somalia to reach the border crossing at San Ysidro, which is the international border crossing between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Baja California. Some are now staying at a hotel, courtesy of the Mexican government.
This latest surge of migrants is one of the largest groups from Africa to make the journey to Mexico. According to various reports, they are seeking political asylum and a better life in the US. The number of migrants crossing illegally every day into the United States is not known. However, it believed to number in the thousands. The number of Africans apprehended by Mexico has grown, however. In 2013, Mexican immigration authorities registered 545 Africans who had entered illegally into Mexico. By 2015, that number rose nearly by a factor of four to 2,045. Most appear to be Somali.
Tapachula is one of the primary gates of entry for migrants entering Mexico. Until recently, most Africans came singly and sporadically. Recently, the character of the migration has changed. Claudette Walls of the International Organization for Migration told BBC News that in the past there were but one or two cases of Africans seeking to enter Mexican territory.
For the most part, most migrants entering Mexico come from Central America and are on their way to the US. Many climb aboard a train that leaves Tapachula and heads north. They sit on top of the railcars where they are exposed, not only to the elements, but also criminals who rape, rob, and murder them. Every year, scores fall off the train known as “The Beast,” and are killed or maimed.
Many come to Mexico to petition Mexican immigration authorities for a transit visa that allows them to remain for 30 days, which is enough time for them to reach the US. Some stay a few days in Tapachula’s hotels or migrant hostels and then transfer to buses or planes to reach the U.S./Mexico border. At the Tapachula immigration post, the number of Africans seeking transit visas has dramatically increased, according to UN officials.
Brazil is chosen as an entry point to the Americas because of its relative proximity to Africa. Migrants can enter Ecuador without a visa. In 2008, Ecuador ruled that citizens of African countries need no visa to enter the country.
Criminal gangs have formed along the lines of legitimate business corporations, forming hierarchies and alliances with other groups in neighboring regions and countries. There are some that specialize in taking migrants from Africa, while others get them through South America. These, in turn, pass the migrants to other groups that make the transfer through Central America and Mexico. Narcoterrorist organizations such as the Zetas or the Nueva Generación cartel of Jalisco take charge of the migrants and drop them off at border crossings at Tijuana or Ciudad Juárez. The journey can cost between $5000 to $10,000, according to the country of origin.