Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Jungles, Camps and Detention: The Long Journey for Many Asylum-Seekers

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Jungles, Camps and Detention: The Long Journey for Many Asylum-Seekers

Article excerpt

The new underground railroad to Canada

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Many African asylum-seekers who end up in Canada face an arduous, months-long journey through thousands of kilometres of jungle, along back roads and over water in small wooden boats.

Stays in migrant camps along the way often culminate with a lengthy period in a U.S. immigration detention centre.

It's a modern underground railroad with organized networks of smugglers plotting paths through South and Central America to help -- often for hefty fees -- people fleeing Somalia, Ghana, Djibouti and other countries.

"The smugglers, right from Africa, they define the routes," said Francisco Rico-Martinez of the FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto, a non-profit group that advocates for and provides support services to newcomers.

"They have contacts in Latin America and they define the routes. And they change the routes depending on how (government) policies change."

Rico-Martinez recently visited Central America and saw the tide of migrants first-hand.

Mohammed, a 31-year-old refugee claimant from Ghana who did not want to reveal his last name, followed the underground railroad starting in July 2014. He flew to Brazil, then to Ecuador. Some South American countries do not require visas for short-term visitors.

Heading to the southern continent makes for a long, dangerous journey on the ground afterward, but it's one of the few feasible starting points.

By bus and on foot, migrants follow a route north into their first big geographical hurdle -- the Darien Gap on the border between Colombia and Panama. It's a dense jungle and has no roads.

Mohammed said he skirted the jungle by going up the coast in a boat. He was crammed into a small wooden craft with several others and covered with a tarp for a seven-hour trip in the darkness.

"The boat is not a safe boat. It's like a wood one with a small (engine) on the back," he recalled recently. …

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