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Guatemalans desperately ‘risk their lives’ during their journey to America | Human Rights News


Campur, Guatemala – Water from the storms last November still has not yet begun to settle down in the rural village of Campur when Michelle’s husband, Byron, decides to leave for the United States.

Nestled in a lush valley in the municipality of San Pedro Carcha, in northern Guatemala nearly 170 miles (270 km) from Guatemala City, campur’s streets are flooded by heavy rains brought off by hurricane Eta. At peak time, the water rises to 12 meters in some places, engulfing homes, property, animals and crops, and leaving only the church bell tower above the water.

Michelle and Byron – who did not want to use their real names due to fears it could affect Byron’s immigration status in the US – and their three children among the nearly 600 families in Campur lost all. both.

“Nobody thinks the water will recede, we have no hope,” the 27-year-old mother told Al Jazeera as she was tending to the family store, of her husband leaving in November, shortly after flooded town.

But as the sprint receded in late January, they exhibited even more devastation – devastated crops, homes and livelihoods – and the government of Guatemala. promise providing money for reconstruction and aid to families affected by the hurricane never came to fruition.

“The people are confident that the Guatemalan government will provide support,” Erick Cu, a resident of Campur, who works for the city of San Pedro Carcha, told Al Jazeera. “But we are entering an economic crisis, and people have begun to emigrate.”

A woman hangs a blanket along the side of her house, damaged by the November 2020 floods in Campur [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

Outstanding issues

Thousands of asylum seekers from Central America and Mexico – including families and children – have arrived at the southern US border in recent months in search of protection, putting pressure on President Joe Biden to address what some have described as a humanitarian crisis. But to fully understand what’s going on, experts say observers must consider the reasons that motivated people to take dangerous journeys north.

Although there are no exact figures on the number of Campurs who have left the US so far this year, Cu said he knows at least 20 people have left since November. Sebastian Chub, a community leader An estimated 50 to 60 people have left, and Al Jazeera told a family that seven members between the ages of 14 and 17 have migrated over the past few weeks.

The impact of hurricanes on Campur went far beyond floods. The local economy, which relied on the production and sale of coffee and cardamom, also declined. Combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, storms exacerbated the long-standing problems that spurred migration, such as unemployment, poverty and food insecurity.

Ursula Roldan, an immigration specialist at Rafael Landivar University in Guatemala, told Al Jazeera: “The effects of the pandemic and storms have deteriorated socioeconomic conditions. “There is also an expectation that with the new Biden administration, migrants will manage to make it easier to enter the United States, and that they will have the opportunity to travel in family units.”

Among those who saw hope for a change of government in America was Walter Choc. He departed from Campur for the United States in February, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers sent him back to Mexico in early March under Title 42, a Trump-era policy outright ban most of those who have migrated to the country due to the pandemic.

More than 172,000 people were detained at the US-Mexico border in March, according to CBP the data, and at least 103,000 people were deported under Title 42. After two consecutive months of trying to enter the US, Choc and his cousin decided to return to Guatemala.

The 31-year-old man told Al Jazeera from his father-in-law’s home in Campur: “Our crops are flooded and we can’t work to make money for the family and now we are in deep debt. “We suffered a lot,” he said. “We decided to risk our lives trying to emigrate to the United States because our government was not meeting our needs.”

‘Nothing to eat’

Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei made few comments about the specific situation in Campur. Following the disaster, Giammattei said funds would be provided for the reconstruction or relocation of the village, but according to Mr. Cu, no progress was made on the plan. The Mayor of San Pedro Carcha, Winter Coc Bac, also accused the president abandoned the region.

According to the Guatemala National Daily Prensa Libre, as of January, the state of Guatemala only has used 25 percent (about $ 11 million) of the $ 45 million was provided in response to the disaster. The Ministry of Media, Infrastructure and Housing did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment during the announcement.

Historically, only a handful of the Q’eqchi Mayan communities in the northern region of Alta Verapaz, where Campur is located, migrated to the United States. But that has changed over the past five years, as the region has been hit hard by the skyrocketing poverty rate. “There are entire villages going to the United States,” Cu, a local resident, told Al Jazeera.

Just over 83% of Alta Verapaz’s 1.2 million residents live in poverty, according to the most recent National Institute of Statistics. the data since 2014, while at least half of all families have suffered extreme poverty. Mr. Cu also said that lack of access to arable land – formerly seen as a much-needed source of food and livelihoods – has contributed to the increase in migration.

Walter Choc sat with his cousin at Campur in April, viewing photos from their attempt to emigrate to the United States. [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

Pedro Pablo Solares, an immigration attorney and analyst, told Al Jazeera that facing these difficulties many Alta Verapaz families now see migration as “the only alternative”, but the influx of people leaves exit the area that did not begin with hurricanes. .

“Migration from Alta Verapaz started due to similar moments [to the hurricanes], “I said. “This year is Iota, the year before the drought. The main problem is there is nothing to eat.

Biden’s approach

As the Guatemalanians continue to seek their way to the US, President Joe Biden’s administration says it wants to help countries in Central America, where a large share of people reach the US-Mexico border, deal with what they call “root cause” migration.

The government has pledged to provide $ 4 billion to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – countries known as the Northern Triangle – to target corruption, boost foreign investment and tackle poverty, along with many other things.

Ricardo Zuniga, the US State Department special envoy for the Northern Triangle, met with Guatemalan officials, business leaders and representatives from civil society in Guatemala City on April 5 and 6 to discuss measures to deal with migration. Vice President Kamala Harris is also expected to visit Mexico and Guatemala.

But at the same time, the Biden administration still insists on asking the Mexican governments and Central American countries to strengthen their borders to ensure that migrants do not cross their territories. Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras responded by militarizing their borders. In January, the Guatemalan military and police use tear gas and batons to bid farewell to the caravan Out of at least 8,000 mostly Hondurans migrate and seek asylum, bringing them back to Honduras.

In a press conference following his meeting this month, Zuniga reiterated that “the US border is closed”.

A salvation

These efforts also come as remittances to Guatemala from people in the US surpassed $ 1.28 billion in March, according to the report. the data from the National Bank of Guatemala – a much-needed lifesaver for families struggling to survive the economic crisis.

Byron was in the US when the country finally began to withdraw at Campur in January, allowing residents to return to their flooded homes. Michelle said the money Byron sent back allowed her to rebuild and refurbish the family’s home and shop.

“If my husband was here, we wouldn’t have been able to rebuild our house,” Michelle said. “We lost everything.”

Byron is not planning to stay in the US for more than 18 months because the family plan is to save some money to rebuild their lives in Guatemala before he returns home, Michelle said. “It’s been difficult for us, we have nowhere to go,” she said. “But we’re currently restoring what we already have.”

While there are no exact figures on the number of Campurs who made their way to the US this year, residents say dozens have left the village. [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]



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