Migrants from Another World: Part 1

The disorientation of migrants on their route through the Americas

27 August 2020
Migrants crossing the Darién Gap, the geographical meeting point of North and South America.
Felipe Reyes / SEMANA
Migrants crossing the Darién Gap, the geographical meeting point of North and South America.
Felipe Reyes / SEMANA

I met Kamal on the morning of 16 January this year in Necoclí, a village of about seventy thousand people with a rough green sea and poor fishermen on the edge of the Gulf of Urabá, in the north-western corner of Colombia. Kamal was fleeing from Dhaka, Bangladesh, after religious extremists burned down his tea shop. His country has a Sunni Muslim majority, and, like much of the rest of South Asia, it has been affected by the ravages of global terrorism and the war against it, and by the sectarian demagogy of leaders in both hemispheres. These have led to criminal attacks on the homes, businesses and temples of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian minorities. 

Every year, half a million Bangladeshis are forced to leave their country. Those exiled by violence, like Kamal, are joined by those displaced due to climate change, which has especially affected this low-lying and overpopulated country: increasingly frequent floods and landslides sweep the land from under their feet. 

Many of the migrants take refuge in neighbouring countries, seeking to rebuild their lives not too far away. Many, however, decide to leave for the Americas. Between 2017 and January 2019, 1,608 Bangladeshis requested refuge in Brazil.

Kamal, too, flew to São Paulo, Brazil, but he connected directly to Bolivia and there began his journey northwards overland. That’s where he was going when we talked to him in Necoclí. Throughout 2019, Bangladeshis were in the top-five list of nationalities among the Africans and Asians who took this route to the United States or Canada. Seven hundred and three travellers with Bangladeshi passports were registered at Colombian migration points, and, officially, 1,561 were presented to migration authorities in Mexico. 

The forces of globalisation that now shape our lives—transnational economies, multinational militias, remotely ordered bombings, climate change, the internet—have turned on the taps of migration across the planet. There are 50 million more migrants today than there were ten years ago, and the percentage of people living in a different country than their own has been increasing.

María Teresa Ronderos is a writer with the Latin American Center for Investigative Journalism.

Keywords: Migrants from Another World refugees Latin America migrants South Asia Africa African refugees