Sat | Jul 20, 2019

Record number of Africans arriving at US-Mexico border

Published:Monday | June 17, 2019 | 12:31 AM
In this June 13, 2019 photo, Prince Pombo speaks about his family’s journey as migrants from Africa at the Portland Exposition Building in Portland, Maine. With him is his wife, Thaiz Neri, and their daughter, Heaven. Maine’s largest city has repurposed the basketball arena as an emergency shelter in anticipation of hundreds of asylum seekers who are headed to the state from the US southern border. Most are arriving from Congo and Angola.

PORTLAND, Maine (AP):

Undaunted by a dangerous journey over thousands of miles, people fleeing economic hardship and human rights abuses in African countries are coming to the US-Mexico border in unprecedented numbers, surprising Border Patrol agents more accustomed to Spanish-speaking migrants.

Officials in Texas, and even Maine, are scrambling to absorb the sharp increase in African migrants. They are coming to America after flying across the Atlantic Ocean to South America and then embarking on an often harrowing overland journey.

In one recent week, agents in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector stopped more than 500 African migrants found walking in separate groups along the arid land after splashing across the Rio Grande, children in tow.

That is more than double the total of 211 African migrants who were detained by the Border Patrol along the entire 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometres) US-Mexico border in the 2018 fiscal year.

“We are continuing to see a rise in apprehensions of immigrants from countries not normally encountered in our area,” said Raul Ortiz, head of the US Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector.

The immigrants in Texas were mostly from the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. Cameroonians have also been travelling up through Mexico and into the US in larger numbers and seeking asylum at ports of entry.

WAITING LIST

Recently in Tijuana, there were 90 Cameroonians lined up to get on a waiting list to request asylum that has swelled to about 7,500 names. Also on the waiting list are Ethiopians, Eritreans, Mauritanians, Sudanese and Congolese.

Cameroonians generally fly to Ecuador because no visa is required, and take about four months to reach Tijuana. They walk for days in Panama through dense forest, where they are often robbed and held in government-run camps. They come from Cameroon’s English-speaking south with horrifying stories of rape, murder and torture since late 2016 by soldiers of the country’s French-speaking majority, which holds power.

A few days after the big groups of African immigrants were apprehended in Texas, federal officials dropped off dozens of them in San Antonio. Officials in the Texas city sent out a plea for French-speaking volunteers for translating work “and most importantly, making our guests feel welcome”.