Migrants' Perspective: Migration Journeys and decision-making

Migrants´ Perspective: Migration Journeys and decision-making

 

For the fifth consecutive year IOM Missing Migrants Project reports that more than 4,000 people are believed to have died or gone missing on migratory routes across the globe. In 2018 alone, 393 deaths were registered on the US-Mexico border. Likewise, the US Border Patrol has reported that, from 1998 to 2016, over 6900 people have died trying to cross irregularly.

Media, NGOs and government initiatives, such as Mexico´s “Programa Frontera Sur”, have increased the visibility of dangerous and sometimes deadly migration journeys, yet there are still migrants attempting to cross rivers, deserts and other barriers through irregular pathways. 

In the face with these risks and considering that, apparently, the decision to migrate is affected both by external factors (economic, social, cultural), and personal factors (gender, wealth, social networks), how do migrants value migration options? How do they decide where to migrate, how to migrate, a possible return, or even not to migrate?

According to the World Migration Report 2018, all migration theories consider the migrants´ “self-agency” (I.e. migrants´ abilities to make and act upon independent choice or decisions) or a lack thereof in an attempt to understand migration patterns, processes and consequences.

The following consists of a summary of some the findings in recent research, migrant-centric, on migrant decision-making and experiences that should serve as guideline to understanding decisions, about risk and risk-taking migration journeys, including risk of death:

 

(MIS)INFORMATION

  • The main source of information for migrants is from close social connections. Families, friends and network sources (in social, not geographic terms) are more trusted than official sources.
  • Social media and telecommunications applications (such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube) have become an important source of information. These platforms are used to share information regarding routes, potential risks and rewards of certain transits, asylum practices, political and legislative situations, welfare benefits, destinations and contact information for potential smugglers and even travelling companions.

 

RISK AND REWARD

  • In the absence of accessible regular migration options migrants opt for irregular migration and/or high risk-journeys. On the off hand, people who are more restricted in their ability to migrate internationally (determined by nationality or otherwise), migrate to less desirable, but accessible countries. This is supported by current data on international migrants, for example, although United States is the preferred destination country in the world, it has been showed that a large share of international migration takes place between south-south regions and countries.
  • Migrants are aware of the risks posed by irregular migration journeys. Studies have shown that in the face of high-risk journeys migrants adopt several psychological strategies to lessen the pain.
  • International migration as a survival strategy. For other groups, such as those marginalized in origin countries, migration provides access to resources and safety. For some communities´ the potential reward even if for the next generation or kinship needs to be acknowledged. From migrants´ perspectives, irregular asylum migration can sometimes be the only option available, despite the risks involved, for some it is a safer option than what they are leaving behind. 

 

PRESSURE TO MIGRATE

  • Migration decisions have increased in social significance and a “culture” of migration has increasingly emerged. Findings show there is an increasing reliance of remittances as key components of household incomes in the origin countries. However, in some communities the “migration cultures” has extended: from a survival strategy at the lack of economic opportunities, to a social competition in which those who decide to stay behind or who cannot move, are stigmatized.

 

PREFERENCE FOR VISAS

  • When possible, migrants will choose to migrate through regular pathways on visas than irregularly. It is safer and travel options are far greater.
  • In the absence of accessible protection options people sought alternatives available to them, such as labour migration. In some cases, this kind of migration is considered as an alternative for people who could be refugees in a destination country, over asylum via irregular pathways. The preference to be law-abiding extends even to their migration status after arrival, since remaining within the law may have positive implications for return to the origin country, as well as for any future international migration plans that may eventuate.

These findings help us reach a better understanding of the extent to which a person consider taking high risks under the potential reward and opportunities of a better life (however defined). As stated by UN Secretary General António Guterres, on International Migrants Day, behind every migration number there is a person – a woman, a child, a man, with the same dreams as everyone: opportunity, dignity and a better life.


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.