" 'La tren de la muerte' is dreadful, because it generally leaves during the night, and the migrants take advantage of the darkness to clamber aboard without paying. But many are mutilated or even killed in the attempt." Jorge Ramirez, Office of the Defender of Migrants in Guatemala's Human Rights Prosecutor's Office.
The so-called "train of death" heads north to Mexico City from the south-eastern Mexican state of Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border. Once the train is moving, hundreds of migrants try to climb aboard. But many don't make it, and fall under the train or are caught in the wheels, losing a leg -- or their life -- in the attempt.
"And now things are even more complicated, because once they make it onto the train, the migrants run into 'maras', violent youth gangs who extort them. And whoever refuses to pay can end up dead, but although it is a perilous route, we are seeing increasing numbers of women and children undertaking the journey, to try to reach the American dream." There are children as young as nine years old who are put into the hands of "coyotes" or people traffickers, to take them to the United States and reunite them with their families there.
Increasing numbers of Central American migrants who have crossed Guatemala's northern border into Mexico are deported every year. Nearly 100,000 Central Americans were sent back home from Mexico in the first half of the year, seeing their dream of a better life cut short before they could even reach the U.S. border. Spokespersons for migrant shelters and advocacy groups like the Casa del Migrante and the Mesa Nacional de Migraciones of Guatemala, and the Centro de Atenciun al Migrante in Honduras say the emigration flows are growing steadily, due to the difficult economic and social conditions in the impoverished nations of Central America.
The number of migrants travelling by land from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua who are deported every month from Mexico averaged more than 16,000 in the first few months of the year. But that average could double by the end of the year, said Ramirez. "Emigrants who are deported return (to their homes) destitute, without money, with only the clothes on their back, hungry and enormously frustrated," he said. "According to the studies we are currently carrying out, migrants who pay coyotes fall into debt to do so, because the cost can run as high as 5,000 dollars," he said.
If they are intercepted once they are in Mexico, they are placed in the custody of the National Migration Institute. Many are held in the Tapachula shelter while awaiting deportation. Eduardo Quintero, with Guatemala's Casa del Migrante, said migrants deported by land are generally sent home during the night, which puts them at higher risk of abuse at the hands of police. But although many deportees complain of mistreatment, 95 percent try to cross into Mexico again, said Ramirez.