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Migrantes africanos en Honduras. LA PRENSA/Archivo

In 14 months, 89,924 Africans and Asians have used Nicaragua as “springboard” to reach the US

According to the National Institute of Migration of Honduras (INM), between January 2023 and February 2024, 49,336 irregular African migrants and 40,588 Asian migrants entered its territory from Nicaragua.

In West Africa, Abdoulaye Doucouré is celebrating the success of his travel agency. In the last months of 2023, he sold 1,200 tickets for a new migration route. For around $10,000, migrants are brought to the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua, Nicaragua, from where they must travel by land through Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to reach the United States.

Doucouré told a journalist from the AP agency that this is the current hot topic in Senegal. However, statistics show that it’s a widespread boom, with over 100,000 Africans and Asians using this route, nearly 90,000 of them counted last year alone.

This route, officially promoted by Daniel Ortega since late 2021, involves the suspension of visa requirements for Cubans, as well as the implementation of a “fine” of around $150 for citizens of other nationalities who arrive without a visa. The route reduces the risks for Africans and Asians in navigating the Mediterranean to reach Europe and then flying to a Latin American country to continue by land to the United States.

Furthermore, this route shortens the journey for migrants because they arrive at the airport terminal in Managua. From there, they only need to cross Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to reach the goal of setting foot on US soil. This direct path reduces the travel distance and potentially minimizes the challenges and risks associated with longer journeys through multiple countries.

And from the political standpoint, it puts pressure on the United States, exacerbating the migration crisis it faces to the extent that it was forced to impose a visa restriction policy and threaten other sanctions against those involved in these charter flights.

Hundreds of thousands, of all nationalities, leave through Honduras

However, despite the “boom” in this business, it is difficult to ascertain in Nicaragua how many Africans and Asians are using it, as authorities are releasing data with over a year’s delay. Just a few days ago, the Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism (Intur) published its statistical yearbook for 2022, in which migrants are disguised as tourists.

What little is known is that since the visa suspension for Cubans came into effect, the number of passengers entering Nicaragua by air and those leaving via that route has increased. Reports from the Central Bank of Nicaragua (BCN) detail that between January 2022 and November 2023, 1.45 million travelers disembarked at Managua airport, but only 830,100 left the country through that route. This suggests that approximately 601,800 passengers left by land towards Honduras to continue their journey in pursuit of the so-called American dream.

113,238 Africans and Asians in five years

This presumption is confirmed by statistical reports from the National Institute of Migration of Honduras (INM), which recorded the entry of 874,235 irregular migrants from Nicaragua between January 1, 2019, and February 25, 2024. Among this group, 113,238 were Africans and Asians. Eighty out of every one hundred of these migrants entered Honduras through the areas of Danlí and Trojes, municipalities near the border posts of Las Manos (Ocotal) and Teotecacinte (Jalapa), both located in Nueva Segovia. The remaining twenty entered through Choluteca, that is, through areas adjacent to the border post of Guasaule, in Chinandega.

According to the report from the INM of Honduras, of the 874,235 irregular migrants received in the Irregular Migrant Care Centers (CAMI) during the mentioned period, Venezuelans were the largest group with 322,846 migrants. In second place were 198,777 Cubans, followed by 119,712 Haitians, then 76,431 Ecuadorians, and in fifth place, 19,384 Colombians.

From the sixth position onwards, the list is dominated by Africans and Asians, totaling 113,238 travelers, who before this date did not even appear in these reports in some years. Of these, 63,493 were citizens from 23 African countries, with 78 percent of them, equivalent to 49,336 individuals, arriving between January 2023 and February 25, 2024. Meanwhile, 49,745 were from 17 Asian countries, with 81 percent of them, corresponding to 40,588 individuals, entering Honduras between January 2023 and February 25, 2024. In total, between January 1, 2023, and February 25, 2024, 89,924 Africans and Asians entered Honduras from Nicaragua.

89,924 migrants crossed in 14 months

This led Africans and Asians to enter the list of the top ten countries contributing migrants to the group of 874,235 individuals who entered Honduras from Nicaragua during the mentioned period. Guinea, a country located in West Africa near Senegal, ranked sixth with 16,031 migrants. In seventh place were 15,251 Chinese migrants; Senegal ranked eighth with the entry of 11,517 citizens; followed by India with 7,833 individuals, and Mauritania in tenth place with 6,995 migrants.

The massive influx of Africans and Asians recorded during 2023 and continuing into the first two months of 2024 coincides with the collapse caused last year by the demand for tickets to Managua from travelers originating from various destinations in Latin America, Europe, and Africa. This forced airlines to suspend ticket sales to the Nicaraguan capital.

However, the suspension did not halt migrant trafficking. On the contrary, the arrival of charter flights at the Managua Airport surged. For the first time in its history, the terminal received direct flights from Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Traffick coincides with the strengthening of diplomatic relations

The boom in these travels also coincides with the strengthening of diplomatic relations with many of the countries from which these migrants originate. In the past year, Daniel Ortega has opened consulates, appointed concurrent ambassadors, sent official delegations, or simply signed agreements to establish relations with six out of the 23 African countries (Cameroon, Angola, Egypt, Togo, Ethiopia, and Burkina Faso) from which the most migrants originated. He has also done the same with eight out of the 17 Asian countries (China, India, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Jordan, Syria, and Iran), whose citizens utilized the route through Nicaragua to reach the United States.

Doucouré told reporters from the AP news agency that the new route through Nicaragua began to be offered in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, in the early months of 2023 and became so popular through social media that everyone talks about Nicaragua in the streets, and airline tickets can be easily obtained.

Although some users of this route, including Indian migrants, have to pay up to $72,000 to reach the United States through Nicaragua, overall, according to testimonies collected by the AP agency, Africans pay around $10,000, an affordable price and a less risky route than the traditional aquatic route through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe and then crossing to America, as this route involved crossing the Panamanian jungle known as the Darien Gap.

Migrants will continue to use the route

Senegalese Gueva Ba told AP that he made 11 boat trips from Morocco to reach Europe, all of which failed. Instead, last year, he arrived in Managua on a single trip and continued to the United States from there. Unfortunately, after spending two months in a detention center, he was deported along with 131 other compatriots.

In response to this wave of migration from Africans and Asians, the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has only included China, India, and Myanmar on the list of countries of origin for irregular migrants entering the country. The rest are included in the category “Others,” which averaged around 30,000 entries per month last year.

Although Gueva Ba couldn’t stay in the United States as thousands of his compatriots have, he was also fortunate to return alive after his failed attempts to reach Europe. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), between 2014 and the beginning of this year, 29,098 migrants disappeared or died while trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.

Therefore, as long as the air bridge that Daniel Ortega extended to Africans and Asians aspiring to migrate in search of the so-called American dream continues to operate, Nicaragua’s name will continue to resonate loudly and strongly in the streets of Senegal and many other countries in Asia and Africa.

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