The young people left for the United States in mid-2022 and their families have not heard from them. They paid ransoms to alleged kidnappers.
Among the dangers faced by Ecuadorian emigrants on their journey to the United States are various criminal groups operating in Mexico. Robberies and kidnappings are frequent at the border.
In mid-2022, seven young people between the ages of 20 and 25 left different cities in Ecuador to attempt to enter the United States illegally. Their objective was cut short when they reached Ciudad Juárez, in the state of Chihuahua (Mexico).
“After that the earth ate them up,” the mother of one of the young people told the organization 1800-Migrante, which reported on January 4, 2023, that the young people were allegedly kidnapped by a criminal organization from Mexico.
The young man’s mother reported that between September 6th and 7th her son arrived in Ciudad Juárez, one of the most dangerous areas on the border between Mexico and the United States.
William Murillo, director of 1800-Migrante, says the human smugglers tricked the relatives into believing that the Ecuadorian youths had already crossed the border into the United States.
The emigrants sent videos to their relatives telling them that everything was fine and asking them to pay the ‘coyoteros’ the balance of the money they were to receive for delivering them to the United States.
The families of three young men, from the provinces of Azuay, El Oro and Zamora Chinchipe, say that after receiving the videos, the threatening phone calls began.
The extortionists identified themselves as members of the Los Zetas cartel, which operates in Ciudad Juárez.
Faced with threats, a family paid an additional $23,000 to the $17,000 that the irregular trip originally cost. The other two families paid $7,500 and $4,500.
But after the payments, the young people continued to be held and their whereabouts are unknown. They never arrived in the United States.
Criminals take advantage
This is not the only case of migrants who have fallen into the hands of criminal groups on their way to the United States, according to reports from the National Institute of Migration of Mexico (INAM).
In December 2022, Mexican authorities rescued 253 migrants who had been kidnapped by criminal gangs in the north central Mexican state of Durango. In that group there were 23 Ecuadorians.
After being released, the migrants said the drivers of the trucks they were traveling in handed them back over to the criminals. They took them to a warehouse and warned them that their relatives had to pay a ransom to regain their freedom, INAM detailed.
That strategy has become more common in recent months with the increased flow of immigrants from South and Central America trying to reach the United States. In many cases, the kidnappers are the traffickers themselves.
That happens more on the border between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, where drug cartels dispute territory and are also engaged in human trafficking.
Criminals even attack shelters for the undocumented, to take their money and belongings or to kidnap them to later demand ransoms.
Migrants have also warned that criminal groups are trying to recruit them.
Risky migration grows
Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguín admitted in a recent interview with FM Mundo that in the last three months of 2022, there was an increase in the so-called risky migration from Ecuador.
Between October and November 2022 alone, the United States Border Patrol apprehended 19,046 Ecuadorians at the border with Mexico. In addition, there is an increase in people crossing the dangerous jungle of El Darién, in Colombia.
In 2021, some 331 Ecuadorians crossed through that area, which marks the border between Colombia and Panama. Between January and November 2022, that number rose to 20,000.
“In this scenario, we have been working with the intelligence systems of several countries,” said Holguín, who announced that there is a large investigation underway, and that they hope to have results in the coming months.
Holguín reported that a meeting of the Security Roundtable was held this week in which the Ecuadorian authorities addressed the criminal structures related to migrant smuggling.
According to Holguín, a plan is also being worked on that includes the responsibilities that different actors that have been linked to irregular migration should have, such as travel agencies and airlines.