Editor’s note: This note was made by the team as part of the special, an interactive map with five stories of people who risk their lives on the route between Central America and the United States.
The persecution and criminalization of migrants by the authorities are continuous on the southern border of Mexico. The increase in immigration verification controls and raids make it difficult for this population to access health services and expose them even more to criminal gangs, who have found a business on their pilgrimage and use it as currency.
Thus, assaults, kidnappings, extortions and sexual assaults on migrants are daily events in southern Mexico; another face of the violence on the country’s borders.
Since February, a mobile team from the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) organization began providing medical care, mental health, social services and health promotion in the municipality of Palenque, Chiapas. In this community anchored in the Mayan jungle of southeastern Mexico, criminal gangs and police operations have the migrant community in their sights.
Given the lack of medical services and the increase in cases of violence in the area, the MSF team also began to offer these services in the communities of Chancalá, Zapote, Santuario and Salto de Agua, located in the vicinity of Palenque.
In medical, mental health or social work consultations there are recurring stories of men, women and minors who are stripped of their few belongings, sometimes forced to remove their clothes, or are physically and sexually assaulted.
This is how Irvin and Axel tell it, two Hondurans who managed to escape the violence of the gangs that have controlled their country for decades, only to find themselves with more attacks on their entry into Mexico.
Irvin, Comayagua, Honduras. 21 years
I left Honduras to seek a better life. I don’t want to continue living in misery, I want to get ahead and that’s all.
This is the second time I’ve tried to get out. The first time it was better for me because I left as a minor. I was living in Long Beach, California, United States. I was studying there, I lived with a sister. I was trying to fix my papers, but an aunt in Honduras who was the one who sent me the documentation, died and I couldn’t meet all the requirements I needed to continue there and they deported me.
When I returned to Honduras after I was deported, I found the same thing. There is no work, only those who “have a neck” (influences), as they say there, work. I was a farmer, I used to plant corn and beans, but what you earn in a day’s work you eat in a few minutes. The pandemic also affected us a lot.
I have 20 days in Mexico. This time the journey has been harder. When we left Tenosique, Tabasco, heading for Palenque, three men assaulted us. They were going to kidnap us, they took our money and stripped us naked. They put our suitcases aside, they laid us on the floor and they pointed firearms at us. We came in a group of six, five Guatemalans and myself.
Thank God no women came with us because surely they would have done something else to us. They called their boss and asked him if they were going to pick us up (kidnap). The boss told them no, to let us go, but they took everything from us, money and cell phones. The compas who came with me called their relatives to ask for money to let us go.
It was my mistake, I trusted. Other colleagues had recommended that I not leave the shelter, not go with the Guatemalans. They contacted some people who had been paid to help them up and I found it easy to join. But immediately the guide began to act suspicious and we decided to continue on our own. I think that was when they “put the finger on us” (they pointed at us).
Sometimes I’m scared, sometimes I get discouraged, but I have to go on, go up and down, hide from the gangs and the Immigration (officials), because my goal is to get back to the United States, raise money to return and do a life in my country.
My plan has never been to stay in the United States. I want to make money to finish my house and do a business in Honduras. Have a family and a quiet life. I don’t like the United States, I don’t want to stay there.
Axel, Francisco Morazán, Honduras, 27 years old
I left Honduras 10 days ago because of the gangs. The gangs told me that if I didn’t work with them they were going to kill me or hurt my family, and that’s why I decided to come here.
I had to go out at night because they had my house under surveillance. Some of the “big ones” (leaders) had come out of jail and they wanted me to join the gang. They came to the house to tell me to work with them or else they were going to kill me.
I’m a barber, I used to cut hair. At first, they came to the barbershop to have their hair cut, but one day they sent for me and asked me to work with them, since I didn’t want to, I had to come here.
I left my father, my wife and my five-year-old daughter. I moved my daughter and my wife to another town so that nothing would happen to them. I feel very sad that I left them. Before coming, I more or less knew things about the route, I knew that it was a difficult path, with risks. The journey has not been easy.
I entered Mexico through La Técnica, we advanced and before reaching Palenque we were chased by some people who are hiding in the jungle and think that we brought money. I ran out of money down there and I came here like this, with nothing. I have also fought several persecutions from the authorities. A few days ago, as we were hungry, we grabbed a garrobo (species of iguana). We prepare it with lemon and salt. We made a fire and went to bathe in the river.
We were waiting for the cooking to finish when Migration suddenly arrived. We jumped to the other side of the river and climbed some hills. We had to leave our backpacks with our phones and everything we had. They took everything, some of us were left barefoot, others in flip flops. When we hit the road again, we saw that all our things had been thrown away, except for the phones. A while ago they grabbed those who came with me, now I’m alone.
When I arrived in Mexico I was sick for three days in the jungle of Tabasco. I had chills, a headache, a fever, and a sore throat, I think from the water and the weather. Thank God I feel better. The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) team in Chancalá treated me without charging me a peso.
I want to apply for a permit and live here in Mexico and, if I am lucky, bring my family because I can no longer return to my country. I don’t see myself in the United States, I’m afraid to continue up. The northern border is more dangerous, there are the big drug cartels.
I feel very sad, only God knows what he is going to do. Sometimes one disposes, but God is the one who has the last word. I wish I had a place to be. I have my hair clipper and they agreed to find me a job when I got to Palenque. I know that with my work I defend myself, but I need a roof over my head.
You can’t work and sleep on the street, because you risk being picked up, crime or Immigration. I hope to have a better future for me and my family and that the doors open for us and we stay and live here. I would like to regularize my situation, to see what happens.
The MSF social worker told me that this is done in Palenque, there is a COMAR office there, it is a few hours’ walk away, but it is very difficult to get there without encountering checkpoints. I plan to continue walking through the mountains and play cat and mouse.