Nicaragua shortcut for migrants to the USA

Nicaragua, “shortcut” for migrants to the USA

A plane held in France before Christmas and bound for Nicaragua with 303 passengers suspected of illegal immigration on board has uncovered a network of smugglers traveling to the United States via a new route via Central America.

Romanian airline Legend Airlines' Airbus A340 flying from Dubai to Managua was grounded on December 21 during a stopover east of Paris on suspicion of “human trafficking.”

On Monday, 276 Indian passengers were sent back to Bombay, while 27 people remained in France, including two who were suspected of being smugglers and were brought before a Paris investigating judge.

The Indian police have also launched an investigation. The passengers allegedly paid tens of thousands of dollars to smugglers to get to the US, an Indian police commissioner told AFP.

Manuel Orozco, a migration expert at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, told AFP that the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who views the United States as an “enemy,” had enabled “a network of international air services” so that migrants “We can reach the Mexico-United States border more quickly” by using Nicaragua as a “shortcut.”

According to him, it was a “deliberate” action “to increase the weight of the migration crisis towards the United States and to generate revenue” from visas and airport taxes.

“We have collected data on more than 500 charter flights” and “even the airport authority” has “contracted with Dubai-based private companies to train officials in dealing with international formalities,” the expert added.

Legend Airlines lawyer Liliana Bakayoko confirmed to AFP that Indian nationals had to “apply for their visa at the airport” in Managua and that Nicaragua had approved the passenger list before boarding, as required by the migration process.

Without this authorization, “the aircraft could not obtain permission to land in Nicaragua and therefore not take off in Dubai,” she explained.

Avoid “hell”.

The influx of Asian and African migrants entering Honduras via the land border with Nicaragua – where they arrive directly by taxi or bus from the airport – has increased fivefold, from 14,569 in 2022 to 76,178 in 2023 (+522%).

Migrants then cross Guatemala to enter Mexico through the United States' southern border, costing new smugglers thousands of dollars.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) points to a “significant trend” of African and Cuban migrants heading to the United States to “choose flight routes to Central America, avoiding the Darién,” the jungle between Colombia and Panama .

Cubans, Haitians, Chinese, Vietnamese and Africans have in recent years joined the wave of Venezuelans crossing this dangerous natural border, where they are at the mercy of human traffickers and the harshness of the dense jungle considered “hell” for migrants. More than half a million have used this 266 km route this year, more than double the number in 2022.

Since 2021, Nicaragua has been a “stepping stone” to the United States for Cubans and Haitians who do not require a visa, according to Manuel Orozco.

According to Inter-American Dialogue, an average of 50 charter flights per month were operated between Havana and Managua from January to October 2023. From Port-au-Prince, flights increased from 30 in August to 100 in September and 130 in October.

Like Panama, an international hub, San Salvador is also a Central American hub for migrants aboard commercial flights to Nicaragua, a spokesman for El Salvador's General Directorate of Migration told AFP.

Like Costa Rica and Panama, El Salvador in October imposed a US$1,130 (C$1,498) airport tax on transiting African and Indian nationals.

In recent months, Colombian authorities discovered that the majority of passengers on flights from Turkey were Africans transiting to San Salvador and flying to Nicaragua from Bogota.

“People, who […] “I want to emigrate and pay for tickets and other things to avoid having to travel through Darién,” Colombian Deputy Foreign Minister Francisco Coy said this week.