African migrants bound for US use Nicaragua to bypass Darien perils

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According to migrants interviewed by Reuters and exclusive U.N. statistics, African migrants and asylum seekers traveling to the United States are flying through Nicaragua to avoid the Darien Gap, a perilous rainforest isthmus between Panama and Colombia.

Twelve migrants who recently arrived in the border cities of Tijuana in the north and Oaxaca in the south claimed to have flown into the Central American nation where many African nationalities can get a cheap visa.

Nearly all migrants from Mali, Angola, Guinea, and Senegal claimed to be aware of the perils of Darien, which can only be crossed on foot.

Many said they had traveled to Nicaragua after hearing horrific tales of those who had perished in Darien’s lethal dangers.

A 32-year-old migrant from western Mali claimed he left his home country because of war and bloodshed. “When I started planning my trip, I told myself: I don’t want to die there,” he added.

He claimed to have paid a trafficker more than $10,000 and stated, “I want to live safely,” from a shelter in Tijuana. He requested anonymity out of concern for his safety.

Souleymane, a 29-year-old Senegalese man who preferred only to be recognized by his first name, was waiting at a bus terminal in Oaxaca City when he revealed that family in New York had paid for his transportation to Nicaragua. Souleymane hinted that it had been expensive but would not disclose how much.

“The political crisis (in Senegal) scares us,” he declared.

Several migrants claimed to have learned about the alternative path through human traffickers and on social media.

Traditionally, many travelers to the United States flew into Brazil or other South American nations, but word of mouth has helped this alternative route become more well-known.

Nicaraguan authorities did not immediately react to a Reuters request for information.

BYPASS DARIEN

Data from the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), slated to be released in a report on Wednesday and highlighting the situation’s scope, was only made available to Reuters.

The IOM gave Reuters a sneak peek at the report’s conclusions: “African and Cuban migrants are increasingly choosing air routes to reach Central American countries, avoiding the Darien jungle.”

According to the release, 4,100 African migrants entered Darien between January and July, a 65% drop over the same time in 2022.

A separate report revealed that 19,412 African migrants traveled into Nicaragua’s northern neighbor, Honduras, in the first seven months of 2023, a rise of 553% over the same time in 2022.

Just 524 Cubans were registered in Darien during that time, compared to 17,157 in Honduras.

According to the statistics, thousands of migrants from Africa and Cuba may have recently chosen the Nicaragua route.

The hazards migrants encounter when crossing Darien have been highlighted by several international organizations, including the U.N. These can include robbery, violent attacks, and sexual assault, in addition to starvation, injury, and animal bites.

Despite the change among African and Cuban migrants, the IOM reports that a record number of roughly 82,000 individuals reached Panama by land from South America last month.

The journey to the southern border of the United States is growing in popularity as a global migration route for people seeking to escape violence, economic hardship, and the escalating effects of climate change in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In the meantime, an unprecedented number of migrants have entered Mexico from other continents.

Three times as many African migrants have been registered by Mexican authorities so far this year than there were in all of 2022.

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