Migration crisis: The sea becomes an alternative for migrants passing through Mexico

The Mexican Navy guards the body of an African migrant who died off the coast of Chiapas when his boat was shipwrecked.
The Mexican Navy guards the body of an African migrant who died off the coast of Chiapas when his boat was shipwrecked.Isabel Mateos / Cuartoscuro

At the end of November, the Mexican Navy located 27 miles off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico 19 Cuban rafters lost at sea. There were 15 men and four women who left Cuba with the dream of reaching the United States when they were found by a ship that took them to Progeso (Yucatán). The tendency to use Mexican waters to try to reach the north has been increasing as an alternative to the migratory fence that extends on the border between Mexico and Guatemala, as confirmed by official data and the latest report from the International Organization for Migration ( IOM) of the United Nations.

The report The deep sea: migrants and shipwrecked at sea, published by the IOM in mid-December that studies irregular migration and the smuggling of migrants by sea in Mexico, points out that human traffickers have intensified the use of these routes that were traditionally used for arms and drug trafficking.

Most of the cases were recorded on the border coasts of Chiapas and Guatemala, but in recent years the Pacific route has gained strength, between Baja California and California (United States) and between Tamaulipas and Texas. “This illicit traffic is generally carried out in fishing or shark vessels, not designed for long trips, to which adaptations are made as additional engines,” says the report.

Since López Obrador came to power in 2018, the Secretary of the Navy (Semar) has rescued 1,204 migrants on the high seas. In response to a request for public information from The Day, Semar pointed out that from August 2010 to last October it has rescued 4,798 migrants who were shipwrecked in national waters. However, the office acknowledged that the problem goes unnoticed because the phenomenon is not sufficiently documented.

In the case of the southern border, the IOM indicates as a strategic point the port of Ocós, in Guatemala, from where the boats with migrants leave for Puerto Chiapas, Villa Mazatlán, Tonalá or Paredón, in Chiapas; but they also venture to Salina Cruz and Huatulco, in Oaxaca, and some even reach the coasts of Michoacán

It is in Ocós, Guatemala, where most of the actors, be they government, civil society and the local population, narrate that the smuggling of migrants by sea originates, and there are some well-traced routes. The recurring places of first destination are the ports of Mazatán, Puerto Chiapas and Paredón, Chiapas (sometimes they decide to disembark or load fuel in Tonalá), and the most remote Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, although it has also been mentioned that due to the migratory control of Mexican authorities wait for the tour in Ixhuatán. Once entering Mexican territory through Tapachula, the boats travel through all the coastal municipalities and many surround the roads that reach Arriaga, Chiapas. Also in Chiapas, they pass through Mazatán to refuel or in case of not wanting to refuel, two boats arrive: one with people and the other with fuel. Mazatán is a strategic point to store fuel or traffic illegal objects and substances. Upon arrival in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, people move by land.

Another of the routes analyzed by the IOM is that of the Caribbean. The organization’s report includes the testimony of an anonymous informant: “We detected the so-called ‘Miami mafia’, which operates speedboats and moves them very fast; here is another issue that I detected especially when I was in Puerto Progreso in Mérida, there is a group called ‘the Chinese mafia’, because a lot of Chinese used to enter there ”. On the trafficking of migrants through the maritime zone between Baja California and California, Semar has reported in recent months of drifting vessels detected by the US Coast Guard, which have asked the Navy for help for their rescue.

About this area, the IOM reports that migrants are mobilized on yachts, jet-skies and even on rafts: “It is known that this movement takes place at night and at dawn, and although there is more regulation in this regard, the boats that come from the United States and Mexico must notify the authorities.” Sports boats are also used to transport them between Tamaulipas and Texas, in these cases, the price of the transfer increases up to 8,000 thousand dollars per person.

Each year 400,000 migrants and refugees, mainly Central Americans, with less than $ 60 in their pockets, participate in a silent exodus to the northern border. One party uses the freight train known as the Beast. However, fewer and fewer migrants are risking boarding the train since the Mexican government, in a peculiar humanitarian measure, forced to increase the speed from 30 to 60 kilometers per hour, which increases the risk of suffering a mutilation when trying to climb.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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