Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Redrawing the Central American Migrant Caravan: How Other (African) Trajectories Cross Its Path



Time to read

2 Minutes

Guest post by Nanneke Winters. Nanneke is a researcher at the Department of Anthropology and African Studies (ifeas), Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (Germany) and affiliated with the University of Antwerp (Belgium). Her research interests include (im)mobility, migrant trajectories and translocal livelihoods in Central America and beyond.

Unexpected intersections

I am in Mexico my friend. In mid-October 2018 I received this message from Micah (a pseudonym), a West-African migrant in his twenties whom I had met a year before while conducting exploratory fieldwork in the northern border region of Costa Rica. As it happens, Micah had decided to continue his long journey from South to North America just as a Central American migrant caravan was heading towards the Mexican border. Calling from Tapachula in southern Mexico, Micah mentioned that at the Mexican border crossing, the migration authorities ‘always allow Africans, but not

Entrance of a migrant centre in northern Costa Rica, which was established in 2016 to accommodate (extra-continental) migrants travelling north (Photo: Nanneke Winters, August 2017)

As these recent developments have further complicated the security of African migrants in the area, many keep trying to move north when the opportunity presents itself. From Costa Rica, they usually try to bypass Nicaragua with a smuggler’s boat or cross its territory walking and hidden away in trucks until they get to Honduras and other Central American countries, which let them pass with temporary visas. Micah dared his second attempt after living and working in the northern border region of Costa Rica for almost two years. He crossed with a small group of other African men and women in a fisherman’s boat, which took eight hours, and then continued by foot to Honduras and by bus to Guatemala and Mexico. Although in earlier conversations he emphasized the dangers of this trip, the risks of deception, drowning, and deportation, during our last phone call he said the two-day trip brought him to Mexico without any major problems. As he put it, at the borders the migration authorities asked him ‘just a little question’. Micah plans to travel onwards to Mexico City and work there for a while, in the meantime contemplating further travel to Canada.

Salinas Bay in northwest Costa Rica, a key place for migrants to board a boat and attempt to bypass Nicaragua (Photo: Nanneke Winters, August 2017)

At the same time that migrants like Micah obtain a permit to travel across the country, the Mexican government is offering Central Americans in the caravan access to work, education and health care, on the condition that they ask for asylum in Mexico and remain in its southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. In practice, this adds up to an immobilization strategy that fits a more general trend in which Mexico is increasingly considered as a (temporary) destination country for migrants who got stuck along the way or deported from the US. However, for those Central Americans seeking security, Mexico may not quite be far enough. They may cross paths with African and other (extra-continental) migrants again and again in their efforts to move further north.

The Central American migrant caravan is thus surrounded and intersected by other migrant trajectories and other migration landscapes, even extending beyond the Americas. To borrow from Allison Hui, keeping these connections in mind may help us not to ‘exceptionalize’ migrants. In what other ways could the present spotlight on this particular migrant caravan be transformed into more sustained attention for the plight of the highly diverse group of migrants crossing borders today, and of the localities along their route?

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Winters, N. (2018) Redrawing the Central American Migrant Caravan: How Other (African) Trajectories Cross Its Path. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2018/11/redrawing-central (Accessed [date]).

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