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Thirteen Ecuadorians have disappeared in their attempt to reach the United States so far this year

Published on July 20, 2021

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COVID-19 has not stopped the departure of Ecuadorians who are looking for a better future in the US and who pay coyoteros up to $15,000

We do not know anything, we are desperate, it has been four months since the disappearance of my brothers and my sister-in-law in the Bahamas, Alicia Calle says, with a broken voice and through tears from the Azuayan city of Chordeleg.

Calle says that her relatives who disappeared, in a group of five, in their attempt to reach the United States to fulfill the American dream, took off on March 6th by a route that the coyoteros are frequently using again, the Caribbean. It’s a journey that includes traveling by plane from Ecuador to Panama, then flying or cruising to the Bahamas, reaching the Bimini Islands and then crossing in supposed high-speed boats to Miami, Florida.

Like the five compatriots lost in the Bahamas, ten other Ecuadorians have suffered the same fate this year and there are 144 missing in the last twelve years, according to figures from 1800Migrante.com, a US-based organization that collaborates with the families of migrants who have been disappearing at the borders for more than a decade.

The organization said that of the fifteen Ecuadorians who have been lost this year, two were located. The discovery was made through border patrols in one of the cases.

Calle says that the last message from her relatives was received on March 6th indicating that they were already leaving for the United States and that they were on the island of Freeport in the Bahamas.

“Since that day we know nothing and despair consumes us,” she says, adding that compatriots borrowed $15,000 per person to be able to travel, a sum that the coyoteros charge their relatives.

“They tell us that there was a shipwreck, they lie to us that they are detained, they make us dizzy saying that they are kidnapped and they have even stolen money from us to supposedly investigate the whereabouts of our families, we are desperate and we are looking for answers,” says Calle, who asks the authorities for help and says that her mother is the one who suffers the most from the disappearances.

Gladis Mainato, sister of Luis Mainato, another migrant who disappeared in the same conditions but in Mexico, says that her brother, a 23-year-old from Cañar who was studying engineering at the Salesian Polytechnic University in Cuenca, was forced to leave his life due to lack of money, since his father who lives in the United States could not send him more after losing his job due to the pandemic.

The route taken by Maniato, who traveled alone on February 15th, was from Cañar to Quito and then he flew to Mexico. He arrived first in Cancun and then Monterrey, from where he was to go to Piedras Negras and then cross the Rio Grande and arrive in Texas, something that his relatives do not know if it happened or not. The cost of his trip was also set at $15,000.

Since Mexico granted the immigration benefit of not requesting a visa to Ecuadorians to enter the country, the arrival of migrants due to apparent tourism that aims to reach the United States illegally has been increasing.

“We need help, we are desperate, we have not received any kind of help from the State, we have communicated with the consulates and the embassy in Texas, but we have no news,” says Maniato. With the same desperation, Calle says that they have not received any kind of help either and that they are still waiting for a response from the Foreign Ministry.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility has not responded to media requests for information about how these kinds of cases are being handled, what processes the relatives need to follow, or if they even have knowledge of the cases.

Lawyer William Murillo, spokesperson for 1800Migrante.com, the organization that provided detailed information on the disappeared, says that the number of Ecuadorians who continue to leave the country is alarming and he considers it a humanitarian crisis and that the State—who is responsible for taking care of its citizens abroad—must take action now.

“The number of Ecuadorians who continue to leave legally for Mexico is scandalous and the national government will have to take action on the matter or declare the humanitarian emergency that these trips are causing in the Aztec country, due to the constant violation of human rights towards Ecuadorians and other nationalities in the Mexican border cities, this has to stop or find new creative solutions to this migratory tsunami that we are experiencing,” says Murillo.

The organization’s spokesperson, which helps families free of charge, says that they have issued warnings to the Government of Mexico about the kidnappings, crimes, rapes and murders faced by migrants who are in transit through that country, but who have not received any kind of response.

“The Mexican route is becoming a real national security problem for Mexico and we do not rule out international legal action against this country for the serious violations that are committed … the Mexican State cannot provide security to its own citizens and much less to migrants and / or foreigners who are being victims of unspeakable crimes,” added Murillo.

Ecuadorian migrants missing so far in 2021

Name Age Hometown Country of Disappearance
Maria Eliza Vera Cajilema 5 La Troncal, Cañar Bahamas
Cristian Paúl Calle Palacios 38 Biblián, Cañar Bahamas
Carmel Carolina Calle Urgilés 36 Azogues, Cañar Bahamas
Juan Carlos Calle Palacios 40 Azogues, Cañar Bahamas
Lia Elizabeth Pulla Campoverde 22 Azogues, Cañar Bahamas
Luis Raúl Mainato Acero 23 Quilloac, Cañar Mexico
Johanna Maribel tapia 33 Guayaquil, Guayas Mexico
Henry Patricio Guzman Ramos 31 Tarqui, Azuay Mexico
Carlos Eduardo López Quinapanta 35 Ambato, Tungurahua Mexico
Milton Lopez 37 Sucúa, Morona Santiago Mexico
Gonzalo Oswaldo Sarmiento 5 Alausí, Chimborazo Mexico
Cristian Lupercio 21 Cuenca, Azuay Mexico
Evelin Quichimbo 24 Gualaceo, Azuay Mexico

Among those who have disappeared there are cases of migrants who were lost in their second attempt to reach the United States and others who were deported to Mexico, from where they were never heard from again; there are also cases in which family members in Ecuador have managed to denounce the coyoteros, but in a specific case in Ambato, the subject was arrested, and despite the evidence, was released under precautionary measures.

“It is a pity that Ecuadorians continue to disappear, and the governments of the region do not provide solutions to stop this migratory exodus that we are experiencing,” says Murillo, adding that he is very surprised by the silence that exists around the issue, which is something recurrent in the border between Mexico and the United States.

21-year-old from Azuayoan makes it to US on 7th attempt, doesn’t recommend it

November 27, 2020 is an unforgettable day for Boris. At 21 years of age and after seven attempts, he managed to cross the border between Mexico and the United States. He paid $12,500 and for three months, during the journey, he suffered from hunger, thirst and a constant fear of dying in the desert. Together with his 27-year-old cousin, he left the country due to lack of work and opportunities. His luggage was a backpack, a passport and a cell phone.

Boris was born in the rural parish Ludo, belonging to the Azuayo canton Sígsig. In that southern town, according to data from the local Municipality, there are around 3,500 people who live from trade, agriculture and livestock. There, migration occurs from an early age and in the case of Boris he left from Ludo to Cuenca to work as a street vendor. But with the onset of the pandemic, his whole world fell apart and that is when, in common agreement with his family, they contacted a man known as Andrés, a coyote who years ago successfully led his two brothers to the same destination.

“My decision was quick because there were no opportunities in the country, there was no money for my studies, I finished high school two years ago and I was unable to enter university. I came for new opportunities, to go out and raise my family,” says Boris, through telephone contact.

It all started in August of last year when he went to the Azogues canton, capital of the Cañar province, to get his passport. He did it there because there were no openings in Cuenca. He paid $90, had his picture taken, and came back after 15 days to pick it up.

His dream was always to fly by plane, and he fulfilled that when he left from Guayaquil to Panama and then to Mexico City. For that, he disbursed the first $3,000 to the ‘coyotero’ who bought the tickets and reserved the hotel. Up to that point everything was fine, but what was to come would be a real drama.

The total payment to the ‘coyotero’ was made as the journey progressed. To travel from the Mexican capital to Ciudad Juárez they asked him for another $3,000. That money was deposited to the coyotero’s account from the United States by Boris’s brothers. They spent 15 days in Ciudad Juárez hidden in what they called a warehouse, this was an abandoned building they shared with more migrants. There were 10 people there, all Ecuadorians, including a family from the Gualaceo canton, made up of parents and children of approximately two and six years of age.

Their first jump from the wall was from a place near Ciudad Juárez, in a sector located about 20 kilometers away from where they slept. The coyotes were clear in the instructions they gave Boris, his cousin, and the other Ecuadorians: “climb the ladder, go down a tube and run until you get lost.”

“We jumped over the wall and when the police saw us, they followed us with dogs, cars, motorcycles and helicopters until they caught us. They had us in a kind of jail, I suppose as punishment and the next day they made us get up early at 04:00, put us on a bus and took us back to Mexico,” he says.

He was captured and imprisoned six times, but the ‘coyote’ was careful to provide him with a legal document issued by the Mexican government so that they are only deported to that country, and not back to Ecuador.

They returned again to the warehouse, but not all ran with the same luck, because on the way “many people broke an arm, a foot, we heard that people were dying, it was very hard to hear that, it scared me, even my cousin there were days when he did not appear and he feared the worst,” recalls the young Azuayo.

Thus, playing cat and mouse, several weeks passed before they were taken to an area a little further away from the surveillance of the US authorities. That day at the end of November they arrived at the sector at 6:00 p.m., but they only left at 11:00 p.m. to cross the wall. There, the coyote gave them two instructions: to run alone or in small groups, maximum of three people to avoid being seen, and to run without stopping until they find lights.

Boris was the last to jump over the wall among the group of 30 people. In the first few meters he was alone and while he was afraid of the whistling of the wind and the howling of the wolves, he observed two shadows, he shouted a name into the air to see if he was lucky and yes, it was his cousin with another 24-year-old boy born in the Otavalo canton.

“You yourself are the guide to cross the desert because the coyotes only make us jump over the wall and tell us to be guided by the lights, everything is flat, but it is very far away,” he says.

The three walked together non-stop for 11 hours until they reached a place in the city of El Paso, in the state of Texas. There they waited another five hours for another person from the human trafficking organization to pick them up and move to another clandestine place, where they were locked up for another eight days. They lived by on bread and some coffee that someone would give them there, they would go out for a few minutes of the day to a small patio and if they wanted to go to the bathroom there was an old toilet. They could not bathe because their were no facilities. As it was a place of passage for migrants, there was a large pile of clothes that those who had been before were leaving.

Although they were in the United States, they still had the last part of the trip to New York to meet their families. The coyotes bought them their tickets and finally, their mission was accomplished. That day was incredible for Boris because he was reunited with his two older brothers, after six and eight years, respectively.

From that point, he went to work and although he had no idea how to build houses, he currently works as a bricklayer. His goal remains firm, and he talks to his parents every day to find out how they are in Ludo.

He lives alone, a few blocks from his relatives, and since he arrived, his routine is summarized as getting up at 04:00 to prepare his food, going to work and returning at 19:00, fixing his room and resting for the next day.

When asked about the Gualaceo family who migrated with them, he said they were fine, because he kept contact. He knows that the children crossed alone in a truck under a bridge, while the parents did the same as him in the desert.

The three months of travel were for Boris “the longest of his life,” due to the desperation he suffered. On that he recommends avoiding doing it, unless there is no other way out. “It is true that here in the United States there are more opportunities, but life is hard, better if you can study in Ecuador and get ahead with your family,” he says.

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