Fed up with constant abuse, some US-bound migrants opt to abandon their plans
By Moncho Torres
Los Planes, Panama, May 12 (EFE).- Even as thousands of migrants in this northern Panamanian hamlet continue their quest to reach the United States, others are no longer able to tolerate the constant abuse and are heading in the opposite direction.
Staying behind at a government-run migrant shelter in Los Planes after a new wave of migrants had boarded morning buses to the Costa Rican border, one small group of people say they are waiting to obtain permission for a flight to their homelands.
“You’ve gone through so many things that you look to go back to your family … What I want is for them to give me safe passage so I can buy my ticket,” a 30-year-old Venezuelan father of three daughters, Yorgenis Jose Hernandez, told Efe.
Hernandez says he wants to go to Colombia, where some members of his family live, and that he has enough money to purchase a plane ticket.
Even so, he says he needs to get his papers in order before he can leave Panama and bring a definitive end to his migrant journey.
Some decide to abandon their search for the American dream after repeated attempts, but Hernandez said he crossed the US-Mexico border into Texas and was allowed to begin an asylum process after spending 22 days at an immigration detention center.
“I came back because I was very disappointed. They treated me very badly on that side (of the border) and didn’t give me food. They didn’t let me bathe, nothing,” he said.
“‘Bloody Venezuelans, what are you doing here?'” Hernandez recalled one official telling him.
On his return trip, he first traveled through Mexico en route to Central America, taking one bus after another and not encountering any of the abuse he experienced while heading in the other direction.
The northward trip “was very hard, all of those countries put you through the wringer … because they don’t give you anything, not even one water, and it’s just walking and walking,” he said of his trek, a journey that included enduring cold and hunger for three and a half days on a freight train known in Mexico known as “La Bestia” (The Beast).
Other migrants, including Colombia’s Jonathan Andres Arrubla, are eager to return home for different reasons.
“They told me my mom got sick. I’m planning on returning to Medellin, but to leave (Panama) I need a passport and I don’t have one,” he said. “I have the ticket, but I need help from them to get permission to leave.”
Both Hernandez and Arrubla are seeking help from the International Organization for Migration’s (UN Migration Agency’s) Assisted Voluntary Return Program for Migrants.
“These programs are created for those migrants who are outside their own country and at a given moment are not able to, or decide they don’t want to, continue on their migration path,” Jorge Andres Gallo, the IOM’s regional media and communications officer for Central America, North America and the Caribbean, told Efe.
The IOM helps arrange commercial flights for migrants, “obviously after (successfully helping them navigate) all the legal requirements so the person can return to their country legally and safely,” he said, though adding that no assisted voluntary return programs exist for certain countries, noting that Haiti, because of its severe security problems, is one example.
The IOM also occasionally covers the cost of the plane trip.
Johnny Sanchez, a Venezuelan police officer, said he wants to return to his homeland even though his salary of $16 a month was insufficient to support his family there.
Despite crossing a notorious jungle – the Darien Gap – that serves as a natural border between Colombia and Panama, he said the worst abuse he suffered was in Guatemala, where the border police sexually abused a female companion of his.
“They touched parts of her body to see if she had money, and she was scared and gave them $100. And everything was money, money, money … They beat my brother in the ribs. They pushed us and all that because we didn’t have money to give them,” he said.