Tougher Europe borders push more migrants towards US

Marco Sibaja•July 23, 2016

Peñas Blancas (Costa Rica) (AFP) – Europe’s toughened borders are prompting migrants to switch focus to the United States, but their trek is being thwarted in Central America, where a bottleneck has formed, according to the International Organization for Migration.

In Costa Rica, a makeshift camp has sprung up housing hundreds of Africans and Haitians. Elsewhere in the country smaller numbers of Afghans and Pakistanis are biding their time to head north.

They are being stalled by Nicaragua, which strictly closed its border eight months ago to migrants without visas, mainly to stop the flow of thousands of US-bound Cubans through its territory.

But that closed-door policy has also trapped what are called “extra-continental” migrants — those coming from outside Latin America.

There are an estimated 2,000 such migrants in Costa Rica.

Their number has increased since March, since the EU did a deal with Turkey to send back migrants trying to reach Europe through Greece and eastern European states built barriers across their borders.

“We have documented cases of people telling us they chose this route to the United States or Canada because they felt that getting to Europe was too dangerous, that it was too difficult to enter Europe or the conditions in Europe weren’t what they hoped for,” said the IOM’s representative in Costa Rica, Roeland de Wilde.

“Most of them seem to be coming through from Brazil and other South American countries that are facing declining economic situations.”

The Pakistanis and Afghans, accounting for around 10 percent of the migrants, are well-organized and often lay up in basic hotels, de Wilde said.

Most of the ones saying they are from Africa are making do with plastic sheets strung up as shelter by the roadside.

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