By Amy Lieberman
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
A teenager is migrating alone from Honduras through Mexico, hoping to reach siblings in South Dakota. She feels threatened and wants to turn back, but carries on, hoping that she'll be one of the lucky ones.
"Women who arrive here very commonly experience sexual violence, but they know that will be the situation," Calzada said through a Spanish translator. "They come prepared for sexual violence, by taking pills or getting injections, because they are aware that there is this chance."
Calzada runs one of 54 migrant shelters scattered throughout Mexico, sponsored by the Pastoral Commission of Human Mobility, a Catholic Church-affiliated migrants' aid organization.
The shelters offer migrants basic amenities and counseling for sexual violence victims. They also try to protect them from gangs that stalk migratory routes in southern Mexican states, with the intention of kidnapping migrants and extorting money from families already in the United States.
If the kidnappers don't receive the ransom--even after sending severed fingers in the mail as a warning--they will enslave the migrants on farms in Mexico, making them work off their worth, Calzada said. Verbal, physical and sexual abuse at these remote sites are rampant, migrant workers say, and while most migrants are released after around a year, Mexico's National Commission of Human Rights has reported instances of women being murdered and being kept as "trophy wives" for gang leaders.
Calzada said protection at shelters from these abuses only goes so far. "We don't let kidnappers in [by policy], but we can't be sure that we aren't doing so, actually."
Tultitlan lies two hours east of Mexico City, just beyond the dusty mountains that enclose the capital's urban sweep.
The El Salvadorian men protecting Joyce secured her a prime spot on the roof of the train, she said, so she didn't fall off. Most women, especially those with children, avoid that risk--and that of kidnappers preying on train routes--and take buses or trucks instead.
Joyce didn't try to report the intimidation she experienced on the train to police and doesn't intend to.
"I don't trust the policemen here. Even in my country I don't trust the police," said Joyce, smiling for the first time since Calzada roused her from her nap. "The only option I have is to protect myself or to find someone to protect me."
Joyce has been having doubts about continuing the journey, though, and wants to get in touch with migration authorities.
More than 64,000 foreign nationals, 20 percent of whom were female, were detained by the Mexican National Migrant Service in 2009, offering the best indication of how many migrants journey through Mexico each year. Approximately 60,000 of them were repatriated or deported from Mexico to their native Central American countries.
Counting on Joyce being among the lucky, her five siblings waiting for her in South Dakota discouraged her from turning herself in. She calls them through landline phones provided by the shelter.
"They won't let me turn back," Joyce said, playing with the ties of a gray, drawstring cotton bag she clutched tightly. "Every day I talk to them and they say, 'Just keep on going, you are almost there.'"
Joyce thinks the journey's most challenging part is over, but worries about how she will cross the U.S. border. There is also the lingering fear of the man who told Joyce he would find her and attack her on the road ahead.
"I would not recommend this journey to anyone," Joyce said.
Amy Lieberman is a freelance journalist based out of the United Nations Secretariat.
Widespread abuse of migrants in Mexico is 'human rights crisis', Amnesty International: