By David Agren
SALTILLO, Mexico (CNS) — Edelmiro
Cardona hardly had any time to flee his native Honduras with his brother when
gang members came calling.
Cardona, who left behind a wife
and 4-year-old daughter, explained how his brother had built a house and rented
it, only to have gangsters, who were related to the tenant, move in and refuse
to relinquish it.
“We had to flee because
they came by our house shooting,” said Cardona, who worked installing
satellite TV service, but sold his motorcycle and tools to pay for his escape.
The brothers made it as far
north as Saltillo, some 190 miles from the Texas border. They decided to go no
farther but to apply for asylum in Mexico.
They are among a growing number
of Central Americans deciding to stay in Mexico rather than try to reach the
United States, the traditional destination for migrants streaming out of countries
south of Mexico.
“We’re asking for refuge because
if we return to our country of origin, we run the risk of being killed,” Cardona
said at a migrant shelter run by the Diocese of Saltillo, which is helping with
his asylum claim. “It was a direct threat.”
Migration from Central America
is nothing new as many have left in search of better economic opportunities, making
Mexico — significantly wealthier than the Northern Triangle countries of El
Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — an afterthought as they passed through on
their way to the U.S.
Nowadays, an increasing number
of migrants are thinking about Mexico as a more appealing option because of
U.S. restrictions on refugee resettlement. For the migrants, it’s more about finding
Mexico has been more a transit
country for migrants than a destination, even though the nation has a history of
welcoming asylum seekers. The most recent example occurred during the 1980s as
civil wars forced thousands of people to flee Central America.
The operators of Catholic-run
migrant shelters, which operate throughout the country, along with the office
of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, say today’s trend stems
from the dangers of the Northern Triangle countries.
The homicide rate tops 80 per
100,000 residents in Honduras and El Salvador, some of the highest rates in the
world. Powerful gangs extort payments from small-business owners or demand that
children join their ranks, with teenage boys obliged to carry out
killings and young girls being forced to become gangsters’ girlfriends.
“There is a threat to entire
families for rejecting (gang demands), so they leave. We are increasingly seeing
entire families leave … including grandparents. They leave their countries
due to persecution and enter (Mexico) as refugees,” said Mariana Echandi, UNHCR spokeswoman in
The path migrants ply through
Mexico presents plenty of difficulties. Criminal groups regularly attack and
kidnap migrants. In addition, a crackdown on Central Americans transiting the
country has resulted in thousands of detentions and deportations by Mexican
Shelter operators report another
factor: difficulties in crossing the U.S. border. Sister
Leticia Gutierrez, director of the Scalabrini Mission for Migrants and Refugees, said no one crosses the U.S. border alone: They have to pay someone.
Migrants “are seeking refugee
status (in Mexico) because the United States is increasingly more difficult to
reach,” said Father Alejandro Solalinde, founder of the Brothers on the
Road shelter in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca state.
Antonio Solis, 20, says he was
attacked en route through Mexico and robbed of 380 pesos, the equivalent of less
than $19. He knew the risk of the road, but fled after gangsters told him to carry
out a contract killing.
“They pulled me into a car
and said, ‘You’re going to do this. If you don’t do this, we know where your
family lives and you will be the last one to suffer,'” said Solis, who had
worked as a field hand, but wants to stay in Mexico.
Father Solalinde said his
shelter encourages migrants to apply for refugee status. Those requests are
increasingly being accepted, according to Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance statistics.
Asylum claims in 2016 increased
by 156.4 percent from 2015, the commission reported. More than 2,560 successful
asylum claims were made in 2016, an increase of 175 percent from 2015. The rate
of acceptance moved from 46 percent in 2015 to 63 percent last year, while the
number of abandoned claims has decreased.
Shelter operators said migrants
are being provided better information. Lawyers, provided by some shelters such
as the one in Saltillo and advocacy organizations, are helping with more refugee
Still, the process is not always
easy as cases can take up to four months to resolve. The commission operates only
three offices throughout the country and people still do not know all of their
legal rights or that they can seek asylum.
“People can’t always prove
their cases,” said Sister Leticia.
“Many of these cases end with a negative decision, but not because these
people were not in a position to be recognized, rather because the process wasn’t
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