Every year, thousands of Central American migrants make the long and risky journey through Mexico to the USA in the desperate hope of finding a new life or escaping violence in their home countries. For many, the voyage is a death-trap with scores falling prey to violent criminal gangs and some going missing without a trace. This is the story of Elias*, one of the few lucky survivors.
A fragile, earnest 17-year-old boy who is dearly trying to put on a brave face, Elias looks up at me and his smile fades as he tells me how he was almost killed. How he fled and walked through the unforgiving Mexican desert for 12 hours without any food or water.
He was barely able to put one foot in front of the other.
“God, if it is my turn to die, I will sit down here. But if not, please give me the strength to walk,” he told himself, thinking that day would be his last.
God, if it is my turn to die, I will sit down here. But if not, please give me the strength to walk.Elias.
On 2 June Elias, originally from El Salvador, and 12 other migrants from Central America, found themselves in the desert on the border of Mexico with Arizona after escaping a brutal attack by two heavily armed men.
The 13 survivors were travelling with a group of 100 migrants who were forced to stop along the route in Caborca, in the Mexican state of Sonora, when one of their vans broke down.
As some of the men tried to fix the vehicle, Elias saw two armed individuals dressed in military gear aggressively approach them. A shower of bullets followed.
Amongst the screams and chaos, people ran in all directions in a desperate bid to save their lives.
Amongst the screams and chaos, people ran in all directions in a desperate bid to save their lives.Madeleine Penman, Mexico researcher at Amnesty International .
Elias’ expression turns to one of horror as he recounts those moments.
“It was the worst day of my life,” he said.
As they heard the terrifying sounds of gunshots, Elias and the others ran in desperation until they found locals that provided them with help.
Local authorities rounded them up and began the process to send them back to their countries of origin.
Their story is now so common in Mexico it didn’t make the front page of local newspapers.
Every year, thousands of men, women and children who take the perilous journey through Mexico to the USA are robbed, attacked, abducted, tortured and even killed by violent criminal gangs who operate along the migrant route, often working in collusion with local authorities. Many other migrants simply “disappear” with their relatives back home unable to even look for them as they lack the resources or papers to travel to Mexico.
According to official figures reported in the media obtained through freedom of information requests from the National Institute of Migration (INM), between 2013 and 2014, abductions of migrants increased tenfold, with 62 complaints registered in 2013 and 682 in 2014.
Between 2013 and 2014, abductions of migrants increased tenfold, with 62 complaints registered in 2013 and 682 in 2014.Madeleine Penman, Mexico researcher at Amnesty International .
These figures are only the tip of the iceberg, as many cases are not reported at all. Many migrants decide not to present a complaint for fear of reprisals or deportation.
But the alarming figures only provide a glimpse idea of the scale and severity of this invisible crisis. The minefield of missing information and lack of political will to confront the criminal gangs and corrupt authorities behind the deaths and disappearances just adds insult to injury.
Elias sits in a detention centre, not knowing what life holds for him but refuses to give up hope.
“My mission in life is to make something of myself, so people don´t humiliate me and look down on me anymore. I had tried once before to migrate to the US, but without luck. But after this time I just want to go home and want to forget everything,” Elias said, tears rolling down his face.
*Names have been changed to protect people’s safety.