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Central American migrants in Mexico travel light but carry heavy loads

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Migrants stop to rest in Coatzacoalcos, a port city in the state of Veracruz. © Christina Simons/MSF

Tens of thousands of people fleeing the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America are still on the road through Mexico in a desperate attempt to reach the United States. This journey was treacherous before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, with migrants at risk of kidnapping, torture, robbery, sexual violence, and extortion. But with many shelters closed or operating with reduced capacity due to the spread of the coronavirus, the journey across Mexico has become even more dangerous.

With very few options for refuge, thousands of people—many of them young children—sleep beside train tracks, in public squares and parks, and under bridges. The few who can afford to rent ramshackle rooms sometimes share with 10 or 15 others, sleeping on the floor on dirty mats or plastic bags.

US president Joe Biden has promised to reverse many of the anti-migrant policies imposed by the Trump administration, such as the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols that stranded people in dangerous Mexican border cities as they awaited immigration proceedings. But change won’t come overnight, leaving tens of thousands of people adrift and at risk.

Fewer shelters mean fewer places where they can rest, bathe, eat, and receive medical care. At the mobile clinics run by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) along the Mexican migration route, they arrive carrying their few belongings in backpacks or plastic shopping bags. Though most travel light, they are weighed down by the psychological burden of trauma, both in their home countries and on the road.

These backpacks are carried by Michael, Ingrid, Jorge, and Ervin, four Honduran migrants who fled violence, unemployment, poverty, and the damage caused by recent hurricanes Eta and Iota. All four received medical treatment at a mobile MSF clinic in Coatzacoalcos, in the southern Mexican state of Veracruz. These are the things they carried with them.

Michael

Michael, 26, is from the Colón department of Honduras. He left his country after the recent hurricanes Eta and Iota ruined his crops and devastated his community. He is aware of the difficulties and dangers of the journey ahead, but aims to reach the United States to find work and support his family.

Ingrid

Ingrid is a 22-year-old Honduran woman who is traveling alone. Leaving her two-year-old daughter in the care of her grandmother, she left Honduras in the wake of Hurricane Eta, which devastated her community, destroying her belongings and leaving her jobless. She hopes to find work so she can support her family.

Jorge

Jorge is a young man who fled violence in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, after gang members tried to extort money from him then threatened to kill him when he couldn’t pay. His mobile phone was stolen in Mexico. He is afraid of the criminal gangs that operate in Mexico, but he is more afraid of returning to his country, where he believes his life is in danger.

Ervin

The hygiene kit that MSF distributes to migrants is often their sole possession, because robbery is so common along the migration routes. This is what happened to Ervin, a 17-year-old migrant from Honduras, who was kidnapped, assaulted, and robbed on the train tracks in Palenque, in Mexico’s Chiapas state. Ervin was a farmer in Siguatepeque, but the recent hurricanes destroyed his harvest. With no job opportunities, he decided to leave and try to earn a living in Monterrey, Mexico, where his father lives.