Can people create a country

Migrants in MexicoThe strange disappearance of tens of thousands of people

There is no trace of Yefri Adonnys. The then 16-year-old Honduran disappeared over two years ago, far from his home, in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. His mother Delsi Yojana has been desperately looking for him ever since:

"My son was a happy and caring person. He left to find a better life and a better future. Also for me and his siblings. He wanted to study in the USA because we cannot offer our children much perspective here. "

(AFP / Paul Ratje) The deal that keeps migrants away from the US
For many migrants from Central America, the USA is the promised land. Often, however, their journey ends involuntarily in Guatemala.

Good education is a privilege

In Honduras, like almost everywhere in Latin America, a good education is a privilege that most families cannot afford. Without a good education, young people are left with poorly paid jobs or informal work on the streets. That makes membership in youth gangs more attractive - and life in the poor areas known as "barrios" even more unpleasant. Delsi Yojana's son Yefri also felt threatened:

"Yefri left because a couple of men in the neighborhood wanted him to do blackmail jobs for them. He didn't want to leave the house anymore, they scared him. And then he said:" Mommy, I want to get out of here! ". Not knowing where he is, what was done to him and why they abducted him in Mexico in the first place, that's slowly dying me. I just want to know where he is, whether he's alive or dead."

For years, Honduras has been one of the countries with the highest murder rate in the world. In addition, there is the excessive corruption that has brought the country's public health system to the brink of collapse for years. The President's brother, Juan Orlando Hernández, was convicted of drug trafficking in the United States in 2019, while the President himself was recently seriously incriminated in another US drug trial. Money, even dirty, governs Honduras, says human rights lawyer Ramón Enrique Barrios, and that has consequences.

"In Honduras there is an extremely unequal distribution of wealth. In my opinion, this has contributed to the extremely high rates of violence. The prospects for young people are very slim. Without a good education, they have only one choice: Either become part of organized or unorganized crime , or to leave the country. This is the only alternative. "

(picture alliance / dpa / Gerardo Vieyra) Crisis in Honduras - The dubious role of the USA
For years, Honduras has been grappling with violence, corruption and hopelessness, with numerous people fleeing to the USA. But the USA in particular is partly responsible for the political development and the decline of Honduras.

Above all, young people are fleeing violence and a lack of prospects, mostly heading north, through Guatemala and Mexico to the USA. Many, like Yefri Adonnys, never arrive.

On average, 30 migrants disappear every day

At least 70,000 people are believed to have disappeared in Mexico. More and more migrants and refugees are hit, like Yefri Adonnys from Honduras. On average, 30 migrants disappear every day. According to conservative estimates, there is no trace of over 10,000 migrants.

Crimes such as the San Fernando massacre, also in the state of Tamaulipas, have caused horror in Mexico and internationally: 72 migrants were murdered and buried here ten years ago. But why are so many migrants disappearing in Mexico? Sofía de Rubina works at the renowned human rights center Centro ProDH on the subject:

"Organized criminal gangs are very often responsible for these acts. Most of the time it's about blackmail and human trafficking. On the border with Guatemala this happens in cooperation with Central American gangs. And throughout Mexico mostly in cooperation with government agencies, not just with corrupt local police officers, too at regional and federal level, even with the Federal Migration Agency. "

(picture alliance / Oliver De Ros) South America - election without hope in Guatemala
Thousands of people leave Guatemala every month for the USA: They are fleeing poverty, hunger and violence. Many have lost confidence in the politics of the South American country.

Criminal gangs run entire camps for kidnapped migrants. Anyone who does not want to be recruited as drug couriers or forced into forced labor or prostitution, or whose family members cannot or do not want to pay a ransom, will be killed. If they are not lucky enough to be freed by special forces, which happens every now and then.

But all too often, according to Sofía de Rubina, kidnappings of migrants take place under the eyes of Mexican authorities:

"The Mexican Human Rights Commission is aware of cases of rape, torture and executions of migrants. But it does not take the necessary measures to protect these people. The judiciary often denies the relatives of those who have disappeared the right to know the truth and justice. That can and should perhaps also serve to deter future migrants. But we see that people from Central America emigrate and have to flee, even though they know how dangerous the way through Mexico is. "

The clearance rate is approaching zero

In addition: Hardly any violent crime is solved in Mexico. So perpetrators hardly have to fear any consequences, says Irene Tello, the president of Impunidad Cero, an NGO that fights against impunity in Mexico.

"The vast majority of crimes are not even reported. There is very little trust in the authorities. Reporting is a bureaucratic torture and only 15 percent of all reported cases are resolved. There are too few staff, especially specialists from forensic scientists to analysts. There is hardly any coordination between the police and the investigative authorities and between the local and state levels. When a case actually does go to court, the investigation files are often so riddled that they end up being acquitted. All of this leads to an impunity of almost 90 for capital crimes Percent."

If criminal networks are to be dug up, there is also widespread corruption, says Irene Tello.

"It is not uncommon for the investigation to be suddenly interrupted in a case of enforced disappearance, namely when an official or an authority is involved in this case. That is why we demand that the federal authorities are always involved in the case of enforced disappearances."

(AFP / Yuri Cortez) Deportation to Central America - "Mexico's politics are hypocritical"
Mexico sees itself as a victim of US immigration policy. But according to Amnesty International, it even deports refugees from Central America illegally, even though they have a right to asylum.

One of the human rights organizations that help relatives like Yefri Adonnys' mother is the "Foundation for Justice and the Rule of Law", or simply Fundación Justicia. The foundation helps with lawyers and does psychosocial work. She encourages relatives to join forces with others in the search to put more pressure on the authorities.

Ana Lorena Delgadillo is the founder of the Fundación Justicia. For migrants from Central America, from Haiti and even from Central and West Africa, crossing Mexico is particularly dangerous:

"These are people who have to go into hiding and who do not file a complaint for fear of deportation. Women, children and LGBTI people are victims of rape by organized crime, but also by officials involved in organized crime . The vulnerability that those affected experience in their countries of origin increases when they are fleeing. "

(picture alliance / Moises Castillo) Guatemala - The tough fight against corruption
Corruption and impunity - Guatemala has declared war on these abuses. With the support of the UN mission CICIG, high-ranking corrupt politicians and entrepreneurs were arrested in rows.

Guatemala, Mexico's southern neighbor, is actually blessed: fertile soils, mineral resources and a particularly rich, indigenous tradition. But indigenous Guatemala in particular is extremely poor. Guatemala's indigenous people are neglected and marginalized by politics. For many young Maya, the hope for a better life lies in the United States.

"We have nothing to expect from governments"

Juan Hernández Torres left his village in the border region with Mexico on June 27, 2007, destined for South Carolina. Two weeks later he phoned that he had crossed the Sonoran desert. Since then his family has been looking for him, especially Juán's sister María:

"My brother Juán was my mother's eldest son. He was a craftsman. From one moment to the next he said he was going to the US to give his family a better life. So he left and we never saw him again."

María has become a fighter. Today she is a board member of the Association of Relatives of Disappeared Migrants in Guatemala. Such family members' associations have been formed throughout Central America and Mexico. They're steaming up their own politicians, but they're also putting pressure on Mexico's government.

(AFP / Paul Ratje) The angels of El Paso: Help where the state fails
Inhuman detention, harassment and agitation - the Trump administration tries to deter migrants with cruelty and severity.

For years, the mothers and sisters of those who have disappeared from Central America have been marching to Mexico City; María has also been there before. It is harshly judging the governments, the Guatemalan, the Mexican, but also the US.

"Since I've been in our association, I've been determined to fight until I know what happened. I don't give hope to find my brother, alive or dead. We have nothing to expect from governments. The only thing they do , is to kill migrants and build walls. We will continue to fight with all the other relatives of those who have disappeared. We will defend ourselves against the walls. Not just me. We are all ready to fight! "

A militarization of the borders

Walls, barbed wire, soldiers. The militarization of the borders is an expression of a migration policy that is not interested in the living conditions of the people and their reasons for migration, says Claudia Interiano in the Central America office of the Fundación Justicia.

"The militarization of borders has for many years been a policy of the states of the north under the motto of border protection or" national security ". Militarization is not pursued with the aim of protecting the rights of people. These are not included in the migration policy of the north Militarization serves only to ward off migrants, not to protect them. "

Migrants and refugees have two powerful enemies on their way to the USA: the cartels and the security organs. Therefore it is safer not to go alone, but in caravans.

(dpa / Iván Sánchez) Refugees in Mexico - Hope drives them
The size of the group offers protection - and feeds the hope that the US government will finally let them into the country: Many people from Central America are marching in groups towards the USA.

Since 2018, thousands of people have set out together: through Central America, across the border to Mexico, through Mexico to the US border. In Guatemala, many stop at the Casa del Migrante refugee hostel. Its director, Mauro Verzeletti, has been looking after people for many years who are heading north with the hope of a better life.

"This saves people the money for the coyotes, the smugglers. And of course it is much more difficult to kidnap five or ten thousand people than a single one. The situation in Guatemala, this violence and poverty, is so bad that The only way out is to flee, or, as Eduardo Galleano said: "The migrants follow the riches that the rich countries have stolen from them."

(Anne-Katrin Mellmann, ARD Mexico) El Salvador - The feared Mara youth gangs
One reason for El Salvadorans to flee is extreme violence: In the Central American country, youth gangs, the maras, dominate the poor neighborhoods.

Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are classic allies of the USA. Critics say their political and business elites are subservient to Washington. They have concluded free trade agreements with their powerful neighbors and have military cooperations. US demands to stop migration by force if necessary are implemented without objection. Why so many people are fleeing does not seem to interest the responsible politicians.

Inequality, poverty, gang crime

"The migration from Honduras and Guatemala is an expression of the failed development model of the last decades. Even if the model was macroeconomically successful, with growth and financial stability", said the economics professor and social scientist Wilson Romero. He teaches at the Jesuit University Landivar in Guatemala City.

"The real problem is inequality, poverty and the swelling of gang crime. If you do not take action against this inequality, poverty and violence will continue to increase despite economic growth. The state must take on a shaping role again and develop all regions of the country in a targeted manner. "

But it is not only Guatemala's elites who are resisting a new, more social development and economic model. The USA continues to see the market as a savior. What happens to the people there does not seem of interest. That is why many only have to flee, even with the knowledge that it may not end well.

Forced enforced disappearances is a crime against humanity: there has been a UN Convention against Enforced Disappearances for over ten years. In this, the signatory states undertake to bring those responsible to justice and to open up ways for the victims to redress.

(AFP / Frederick J. Brown) Escape from Cuba - stranded in Mexico
Cuba is experiencing a new wave of emigration: many are leaving the dictatorship and the economic crisis behind and want to go to the USA. Because the way in the self-made boat is too dangerous, they make their way through Mexico to the US border.

The long-standing German Green European politician Barbara Lochbihler is today a member of the UN Committee against Enforced Disappearances. It explains what signatory states and civil societies can and must do.

"If you have ratified the convention, then it is very important that you invest in the training and further training of police officers, judicial personnel or even certain security forces. If you are in a country where there are a lot of enforced disappearances , you also have to create the capacity to really search. "

The US dictates migration policy

This is exactly where a lot is wrong in Mexico. Keyword impunity. After all: Mexico's President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announced a turning point last year on the 10th anniversary of the massacre of 72 migrants in San Fernando:

"The investigation files are reopened. Nobody will be protected anymore, there will be no more impunity. In cases of enforced disappearances and other human rights crimes, we will from now on allow the UN to intervene without any restrictions."

What will become of it remains to be seen. In any case, the Mexican president quickly cashed the promise of a more humane migration policy made at the beginning of his term of office, says Sofía de Rubina:

"In 2018, when the caravan passed through Mexico, the López Obrador government wanted to issue humanitarian visas to all migrants. After that, this was revised under pressure from the USA and given way to a security discourse. Especially with the establishment of the National Guard, migration was militarized. It hostels were searched, the National Guard tried forcibly to stop caravans on the southern border. "

(AFP / rodrigo Abd) Mexico government offers aid to refugees
Refugees from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala move to the USA. Now the outgoing Mexican President Peña Nieto has offered them to apply for a residence permit in Mexico.

And the USA? US anti-migration policy began long before Donald Trump and his wall project. Human rights activist Ana Lorena Delgadillo emphasizes that the USA also shares responsibility for the disappearance and death of migrants and refugees.

"The USA has dictated its migration policy to the region. People who want to apply for asylum in the USA should not do so in the USA, but in these third countries. With the" Stay in Mexico "program, Mexico undertakes to take back all people, who want to apply for asylum in the USA from Mexico. What does that mean? These people should stay in the border towns, of all places, where there is a particularly high level of crime. "

Biden gives false hope

Joe Biden, the new president, has promised a realignment of migration policy, a more humane one.This gives many migrants false hopes: In February and March, the US border police arrested over 100,000 people, almost a third more than before Biden took office. Sofía de Rubina from the human rights center Centro ProDH is cautiously optimistic:

"The grave crisis for migration and human rights under Trump, with xenophobic rhetoric, the wall and family segregation has given way to hope under Biden: the wall stop, the suspension of" Stay in Mexico ", announced migration reforms, all of this can bring about noticeable improvements."

(dpa / picture alliance / Sputnik / Ivan Pierre Aguirre) US immigration system is being fundamentally reformed
US President Biden is sending out a clear signal: by signing three decrees, he is advancing the reform of US migration policy - away from deterrence, deportation and the building of the wall.

The Washington Office on Latin America points out, however, that the crisis is so deep that it takes time to implement what has been announced and that deeper structural reforms are necessary so that migration is no longer so dangerous. The search continues for relatives like María and Delsi. Associations of relatives continue to put pressure on the fact that an investigation is finally carried out, that the fate of their loved ones is finally cleared up, that the perpetrators are finally brought to justice.