From Chile to Roxham, the perilous journey of asylum seekers

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From Chile to Roxham, the perilous journey of asylum seekers

A good part of the migrants arriving at Roxham Road have crossed a dozen countries, in sometimes dramatic conditions, to reach Canada. Investigation traced their journey.

Migrants from many countries cross all over America, such as the Darien jungle, near Panama, to reach in Canada.

“I paid over $10,000. It was really difficult. But now my family and I are in Canada.”

Hugging his 4-year-old daughter in the kitchen of his Montreal apartment, Emmanuel smiles again.

He is one of more than 20,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Quebec this year via Roxham Road. This irregular entry is their only means of setting foot in the country.

This is a record. Never has Canada welcomed so many people looking for a new refuge.

But how do they come here? What is their background? What dangers are they fleeing from and what obstacles do they encounter on their way? Investigation dived into this route, which has become extremely popular.

Emmanuel arrived in Quebec, with his family, after crossing a dozen countries.

The government treats us very well here, claims Emmanuel. It's my pride. But I don't know if we'll be able to forget all the obstacles we experienced on the road, everything that happened.

A few weeks after their arrival in Quebec , this Haitian family is trying to put behind them this long, perilous and dangerous journey to seek asylum in Canada. Without ever forgetting it.

In migrant lingo, there is a simple word to define this journey: the road. A word synonymous with drama and an essential ordeal to reach your destination.

Emmanuel is a fictitious name, like those of the other migrants interviewed. In order not to interfere with the study of their asylum application, we have agreed to preserve their identity.

The report by Romain Schué and Martin Movilla entitled Roxham inc . is released at SurveyThursdays at 9 p.m. on ICI Télé.

Like thousands of his compatriots, Emmanuel left Haiti several years ago. There was no security in my country. It was really catastrophic, he laments.

There were bandits, assaults, says Esther, another young thirty-year-old of Haitian origin, who also traveled with her husband and three-year-old son.

It all started, for her like so many others, in Brazil and Chile, in the middle of the previous decade. These two countries, which had significant needs in the construction sector, welcomed many migrants. Without asking Haitians for any visas.

But political changes in South America, immigration uncertainties and the Canadian attraction have upset their plans. Pushing them to go north. By car. By bus. On a boat. And on foot.

This route, as described by Survey in the early stages of the popularity of this route, takes several months. Depending on the financial means of the migrants, their contacts and the will of the smugglers or criminal groups on their way.

The International Organization for Migration tries to help these migrants who are thousands to cross many countries, between South America and North America, in search of a new life.

< p class="e-p">All arrive at the same place: the Darien jungle.

This territory, located between Colombia and Panama, is crossed by walking. For days. There are no passable roads on this route strewn with dangerous animals and armed groups.

Since January 2021, nearly 205,000 people have crossed these forests, the vast majority of them Haitians, according to a census by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). There have never been so many people, underlines Jeremy MacGillivray, head of mission for this branch of the United Nations.

“This route is now part of the migration route. Before, it was more rare, because there were fewer restrictions [in certain countries].

— Jeremy MacGillivray, Chief of Mission for the IOM

The robbers are on the increase.

Those who have no money are raped, recounts Emmanuel, his voice still traumatized. I gave money so that my family could go, he continues.

He is not the only one to tell us about such a tragedy. In Florida, a priest receives daily migrants who experience these extraordinary dramas.

“I met a young girl who told me how she was repeatedly raped in Darien Forest. In front of her husband and children. »

—Father Reginald Jean Mary

There is a new wave now, says Father Réginald Jean Mary, a Haitian of origin, who invited us to his church in Miami. Every day I get at least 25 people coming. Many of whom want to go to Canada, he continues.

Migrants also have to deal with other dangers on their journey. Those of nature and rivers that are sometimes virulent and difficult to cross.

We encountered several deaths on the road, says Emmanuel, while telling us about his wife, who narrowly avoided being swept away by the strong current of one of the multiple rivers crossed.

She slipped, but luckily two people helped us.

According to the IOM, there are officially about fifty deaths in this jungle each year. But this figure would be underestimated, assures Jeremy MacGillivray.

We speak with Haitians, migrants, and they all describe to us bodies discovered or dead in their group. There would rather be hundreds of deaths.

Tears in her eyes, Esther sighs. It's a scar in my heart.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the profile of people crossing the entire American continent is constantly changing. Haitians were for a long time the main migrants to make this journey. Now there are many Venezuelans and Colombians. It's related to visa issues. They can no longer take a plane, so they walk, says IOM Chief of Mission Jeremy MacGillivray.

Over 20,000 people arrived at Roxham Road between January and July 2022. A record.

This journey can now be found on social networks. In different groups, as Survey has seen, the entire journey is described. This is the way for migrants to exchange information and recommendations, continues Jeremy MacGillivray.

Emmanuel explains, for example, that he voluntarily chose, for his group of around thirty people, a longer way to avoid armed groups. It was better, because then we heard shots, guns. We survived, he says.

Esther paid $6,000 for this trip. Emmanuel, he had to find the money. Even on the road.

“I put other kids on my back, on my head. I carried suitcases. That's how I raised money to do the road.

— Emmanuel, an asylum seeker

There are people there [on the road] who cannot carry their child. I also sold my shoes, he says.

But once the Darien jungle was over, the worst was not yet behind them.

Thousands of mostly Haitian migrants slept under a bridge in Texas in September 2021 after crossing the Rio Grande.

Emmanuel, Esther and their families crossed Mexico thanks to smugglers, before swimming in the Rio Grande to arrive in Texas. They were among thousands of Haitians sleeping under the bridge connecting Acuna, Mexico, and the US city of Del Rio, in September 2021.

Esther shows us photos. His son, then rickety, had lost several kilos, for lack of food and water. We slept on the floor, then we were put in prison, says her husband, Jean.

But on the spot, once again, they are told about Roxham Road. Along the way, many people advised us to cross the United States to go to Canada.

“On the road, [the migrants] say Roxham is the best way to come to Canada.

—Jean, an asylum seeker

Although the United States has maintained significant restrictions south of its border since the start of the pandemic, thousands of people manage to return home without being deported, unlike many other migrants.

There is a lack of clarity, and everyone among migrants knows it, says Jeremy MacGillivray. People know that if you come from Mexico with young children, or if the woman is pregnant, you have a chance of not being deported.

Kofi is an asylum seeker from West Africa. He has just moved to Montreal.

That's how Kofi, an African immigrant he met in Florida, then again in Montreal, was able to enter in the USA. Single, he made this route by joining a group of Haitians, before benefiting from an unfortunate combination of circumstances.

The husband of a pregnant woman fell from a boat, he drowned, says the young man. I helped the woman make the journey, then afterwards, we said we were a couple.

These asylum seekers are now in Quebec. Head full of goals.

Emmanuel has now obtained his work permit. He wants to work in construction and dreams of offering medical studies to his son. Jean, meanwhile, wants to go back to school. And fully integrate into Canada.

In the United States, we were made to sleep on the floor, he recalls. In Canada, we were given a hotel room, although I have no money to pay for it. It's a better life.

With the collaboration of Martin Movilla

Also read: Roxham inc., the paying business of immigration

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