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Migrant Lives

Latin America's Migrants Trying To Reach The U.S.: Risk It All, Fail, Repeat

Searching for a safe home, many Latin American migrants are forced to try, time after time, getting turned away, and then risk everything again.

Photograph of thousands of migrants marching  to the US-Mexican border under the rain.

06 June 2022, Mexico, Tapachula: Thousands of migrants set off north on foot under the rain.

Daniel Diaz/ZUMA
Alejandra Pataro

BUENOS AIRES — With gangsters breathing down his neck, Maynor sold all of his possessions in Honduras, took his wife and three kids aged 11, 8 and 5, and set out northwards. He was leaving home for good, for the third time.

"I had to leave my country several times," he said, "but was deported." He was now trying to enter the U.S. again, but the family had become stuck in Mexico: "Things are really, really bad for us right now."

Migration in Latin America is no longer a linear process, taking migrants from one place to another. It goes in several directions. Certain routes will take you to one country as a stopover to another, but really, it's more a lengthy ordeal than a layover, and the winners are those who can find that receptive, welcoming community offering work and a better life.

The aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calls this an international, multidirectional phenomenon that may include recurring trips to and from a home country.

Marisol Quiceno, MSF's Advocacy chief for Latin America, told Clarín that migrants "are constantly looking for opportunities and for food security, dignified work opportunities (and) healthcare access." These are the "minimum basics of survival," she said, adding that people will keep looking if they did not find them the first time around.

Photograph of a woman and young child hanging clothing, as they wait for appointments at the Center on Global Justice being built at one of Tijuana's largest operational shelters\u200b.

June 21, 2023, Tijuana, Mexico: Many wait to get appointments for the Center on Global Justice being built at one of Tijuana's largest operational shelters.

Carlos A. Moreno/ZUMA

Why migrate?

Higher costs of living and increasing unemployment have made it harder for migrants to integrate into Latin American states, and made it difficult for them to restart lives in another country.

Quiceno says they are finding it hard to settle down in countries where they had been staying, and there is "no effective juridical or economic integration." She says people need to "understand the reasons for migration, the situations a person faces in an unknown country. Certain societies reject migrants, and they're turned away."

With an inflation rate of around 100%, Argentina has unleashed a new wave of migration, or remigration, of Venezuelans who came to the country to escape economic disaster at home.

As Venezuelans arrived in 2019, the U.S. dollar bought you 38 Argentine pesos, whereas today, the informal rate runs at around 700 pesos to the dollar. Some will try to reach Canada but for the most part, the chief destination is the U.S.

Haitians who were in Chile since 2010 also began to leave in 2021, citing rising joblessness and poverty, as well as hostility from locals and harsher immigration laws.

Photograph of asylum seekers scaling a hill between the US-Mexico border to reach the Mexican military.

May 12, 2023, San Diego, United States: Asylum seekers are seen scaling a hill between the US-Mexico border to reach the Mexican military.

Jon Putman/ZUMA

A dangerous — and often repeated — journey

In Latin America, three times is not an unusual number of migratory trips. It has become one of the world's leading regions in terms of displaced populations. The UN refugee agency's latest Global Trends report found that two out of every five asylum seekers in the world were from Latin America.

There's an increasing number of unaccompanied children and teenagers

UN data also shows that Latin America and the Caribbean are the most significant departure points for migrants heading to the U.S. and Canada (25.4 million), followed by Asia.

Their journeys and life histories are often harrowing. Mayner Rodríguez is a psychologist with a mobile MSF unit operating in Danlí and Trojes in Honduras.

She is familiar with the cases of people who leave their families to set out on a harsh trip that promises violence and possibly death. And the longer the trip, the greater its dangers.

She recalls the siblings whose parents died on the route, and who were left to survive as best they could. The older brother took the youngest with him, and had to abandon the middle one. "It was very sad, but they had no choice," she says.

Quiceno is particularly concerned by the increasing number of unaccompanied children and teenagers "traveling without their parents or other relatives or the care of any responsible adult."

Migrants face many challenges including theft, days without eating, sleeping in parks, walking hundreds of kilometers, and abuses and sexual violence.

José Rafael Cumare, a 38-year-old migrant from Venezuela, lived in Argentina for three years before leaving for the U.S. via the dangerous Darién Gap. He told MSF he had seen and heard "ugly things inside the forest."

Deciding to give it another try is not easy. Quiceno told Clarín that "people face uncertainty. They're not sure whether or not the situation has improved, and if it makes sense anymore to keep trying from where they are." Others, she recalled, said that they "feel a little ashamed having to tell their families and neighbors that they failed to find the dreams they had gone after."

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How WeChat Is Helping Bhutan's Disappearing Languages Find A New Voice

Phd candidate Tashi Dema, from the University of New England, discusses how social media apps, particularly WeChat, are helping to preserve local Bhutanese languages without a written alphabet. Dema argues that preservation of these languages has far-reaching benefits for the small Himalayan country's rich culture and tradition.

A monk in red performing while a sillouhet of a monk is being illuminated by their phone.

Monk performing while a sillouheted monk is on their phone

Source: Caterina Sanders/Unsplash
Tashi Dema

THIMPHU — Dechen, 40, grew up in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Her native language was Mangdip, also known as Nyenkha, as her parents are originally from central Bhutan. She went to schools in the city, where the curriculum was predominantly taught in Dzongkha, the national language, and English.

In Dechen’s house, everyone spoke Dzongkha. She only spoke her mother tongue when she had guests from her village, who could not understand Dzongkha and during her occasional visits to her village nestled in the mountains. Her mother tongue knowledge was limited.

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However, things have now changed.

With 90% of Bhutanese people using social media and social media penetrating all remotes areas in Bhutan, Dechen’s relatives in remote villages are connected on WeChat.

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