United States Customs and Border Patrol is facing a new wrinkle in their efforts to control and manage the flow of migrants across the U.S.’s southern border: a sudden influx of asylum seekers from countries in Africa.
The Associated Press reports that migrants from Africa are flocking to the U.S.-Mexico border after flying into south and and central American countries, escaping human rights abuses and violent dictatorships on their home continent. Most, border patrol says, are from the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola, as well as Cameroon. The AP adds that, in recent weeks, border patrol has processed asylum seekers from Ethiopia, Eritriea, and the Sudan.
In one recent week, border patrol apprehended at least 500 African migrants in the Del Rio sector of the border — twice the number border patrol apprehended in all of fiscal 2018 across the entire U.S.-Mexico border.
“We are continuing to see a rise in apprehensions of immigrants from countries not normally encountered in our area,” one official told the AP.
The change in demographics among asylum seekers has added a new hardship for border patrol and immigration officials already struggling to house and process an unprecedented number of migrants at the U.S.’s southern border.
For starters, border patrol is used to dealing with mostly Spanish-speaking migrants and many of the African asylum seekers speak French as a first or second language. As a result, the border patrol has put out an urgent call for assistance from local French speakers and French translators in Texas who can help bridge the language barrier.
As difficult as the journey across Mexico is for migrant caravans from central America, migrants from Africa have nearly twice as far to go. Most fly to Ecuador, where having a visa isn’t required for a “temporary stay,” then walk from the South American nation through the jungles to El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, where they join up with the now-frequent migrant caravans. It’s a journey that can take more than four months, and brings with a much greater threat of disease and injury — beyond just what migrants might bring with them from their homeland.
Like those immigrants coming to the border in migrant caravans, the African migrants have a plan once they hit the U.S. border. After being processed, they typically fan out to 16 U.S. cities, according to the Blaze, where communities of African refugees are thriving, helped along by non-profits at the border that provide newly processed asylum seekers with paid transportation.
The sudden increase isn’t coincidental. Word of the migrant caravans continues to spread, and many Africans seeking refuge see the route to the U.S.-Mexico border as a viable option if they don’t yet qualify for standard refugee status. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the United Nations is only beginning to notice what could be a humanitarian disaster.
A report, published by the U.N.’s Joint Human Rights Commission, claims that there have been “at least 324 victims of extrajudicial or summary executions, 832 victims of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, 173 victims of rape or other sexual violence (114 women, 58 children and one man), and 431 victims of forced labour. The civilian population has been the main victim of the worsening security situation in these territories.”
The widespread violence, the U.N. says, is threatening to create a “mass displacement” of civilians; that “mass displacement” may have already begun.