How does technology help migrants from Central America?

MigApp

 

When high-risk journeys take place, such as long walks crossing multiple Central American countries, uncertainty is always present. The surge of information and the variety of sources makes it difficult for migrants to access reliable and pertinent information, this can result in an increase of vulnerability of those who move to another country.

According to World Migration Report 2018, "although many [migrants] are aware that the information provided may not be accurate, prospective migrants may use social media to locate smugglers. […] there are groups, on Facebook for instance, where migrants and asylum seekers search for travelling companions and ask for advice on dangers, risks and reliable smugglers."

To help break this scheme, since June 2018, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), developed the MigApp application (formerly under the name MigrantApp) to answer the most frequent questions and needs of migrants, before, during and after their journey. It is a tool that focuses on relevant information and excludes "boisterous" content.

While the app collects the profile of those who use it (age, sex, countries of transit, among others) to visualize migratory patterns that facilitate the analysis and understanding of the phenomenon to international organizations and governments, the data of those who use the application always remains anonymous. This broadens the information framework for migration governance to promote a safe, regular and orderly migration.

 

How does MigApp help migrants from Central America?

  • Useful information for a safe migration: To reduce the impact of unreliable or dispersed sources, MigApp compiles the requirements of entry and stay in other countries, how to manage work permits, locations of IOM medical centers, migrants’ rights, among others. In this way the user can prepare before traveling and foresee relief spaces during transit.
  • Compares money transfers platforms costs: The financial conditions in which many of these people migrate are precarious and they may need economic help of their relatives and acquaintances along the way. Through MigApp, migrants can compare the prices of different remittance platforms to choose the one that is least expensive.
  • Access to information on basic telephones and/or without Internet: Once downloaded, many of the features of the application do not require access to Internet to be consulted: it is static information always available for those who travel. Also, the application is designed so that it can be installed on any type of mobile device, regardless of its operating system or model.
  • Possibility of return: If a migrant voluntarily decides to return to his/her country, IOM facilitates a safe return, regardless the migratory status of the person requesting it. This request can be made in the different offices of the organization, and through MigApp.  

For more information about MigApp, please visit https://www.iom.int/migapp 

DOWNLOAD MigApp for Android o iOS.

 


Extortion is Causing the Expulsion of Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America

Extortion is Causing the Expulsion of Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America
Categoria: Migrant Protection and Assistance
Autor: Guest Contributor

In cases of forced displacement, extortion is often mentioned as one of the main causes. However, extortion is located within a cycle of violence, such sexual violence, murder, etc., and it is difficult to identify a single incident of extortion as the sole reason for leaving a country.

Although its definition varies depending on national legislation, extortion can be understood as the use of threats, intimidation and other acts of violence to obtain actions or goods from another person against their will, as defined by the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Environmental Funds (REDLAC), in a special bulletin dedicated to this issue and upon which this post is based.

In the context of migration, kidnapping and extortion go hand-in-hand, as smugglers often extort money from migrants by threatening to kidnap their relatives. Extortion can also be committed in the other direction: relatives of migrants who have already arrived in another country are extorted by smugglers, demanding money from them so as not to harm the family member who has already migrated. This can often lead to persecution in communities of origin and destination.

In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the serious issue of personal insecurity fuelled by drug trafficking and corruption has marked the region as one of the most violent on the planet, according to Amnesty International. In this context, extortion schemes demanding payments from local markets and small businesses are commonplace in gang-controlled territories. However, depending on the country, there can also be extortion demands  placed on homes, such as in Guatemala, where this accounts for 55% of extortion complaints.

There is also a difference between the type and impact of extortion experienced by men, women, children and the LGBTIQ+ population. In this sense, when women are extorted for money, threats are often combined with the intimidating possibility of sexual violence. According to the REDLAC bulletin, the bodies of women, adolescents, and girls are treated as territory for revenge and control while children are being increasingly recruited as rent collectors, among other functions.

Migrants are often also extorted by people who are not part of criminal groups but who take advantage of their vulnerable situation to turn a profit, such as locals who demand payment to cross private land rather than using routes with criminal gangs, or transporters who demand money from irregular migrants in exchange for not reporting them to immigration authorities. The same situation has been reported with employers who, on pay-day, threaten to report migrant workers for an irregular migrant status.

There are currently no figures on the number of people displaced or forced to migrate due to extortion in northern Central America, as this is part of a generalised climate of violence; however, some organisations locate this crime as one of the main reasons for migration from areas or even from the country.

 

Extortion during the pandemic

In the bulletin of the Network of Latin American and Caribbean Environmental Funds (REDLAC) which examines extortion as a trigger for internal displacement and forced migration in northern Central America and Mexico, some relevant points were also made about how extortion has adapted to the context of COVID-19:

  • In El Salvador, COVID-19 has reduced the income of gangs, but they have not lost territorial control. Some gangs have established restrictions, such as allowing one individual per family to make food purchases, to reduce the risk that a gang member may become ill and not be able to access medical care.
  • In Honduras, the paralysis of the transportation and informal trade sectors, generally common sectors for extortion, has registered a decrease in cases of extortion due to the pandemic. However, there have been reports of threats of retroactive charges once commerce resumes, house-to-house tariffs, and road ‘tolls’, and scams executed by gangs. Food distributors are frequent victims of extortion when entering communities.
  • In Guatemala, extortion has not stopped either, although at the beginning of the pandemic some maras (gangs) granted ‘pardons’ in their communities. However, national agencies predict that when the restrictive measures end, there will be an increase in other crimes and that extortion will return as a greater threat.
  • Mobility restrictions increase the risk of people being trapped in violent environments, making it difficult to seek support in other territories and countries. Despite this, many people seek and will continue to seek irregular migration options, despite the dangers of the pandemic, in order to leave the high-violence, low-income contexts in which they live.