Rape as a weapon of war against asylum seekers | Opinions

The first time I talked to the survivors Darien distance – the notoriously deadly stretch of jungle on the border between Colombia and Panama – is 2021 in my short time imprisoned in Siglo XXIMexico’s largest immigrant detention center, located in the Mexican state of Chiapas near the border with Guatemala.

I am the only prisoner from the United States – the country first responsible for Mexico’s migrant crackdown – and I have ends up in migrant prison purely due to my stupidity and laziness in extending my tourist visa. My fellow inmates are facing more vital difficulties, and many of them – from Haiti, Cuba, Bangladesh, and beyond – have been forced to cross the Darién Gap as they flee from economic and political disaster in the hope of eventually finding refuge in the United States.

Within the walls of Siglo XXI, where dreams of refuge have been delayed indefinitely, Darién is a recurring topic of conversation – it seems to be some sort of spontaneous exercise in therapy. group. The women recounted the countless corpses they encountered on their journey. It is clear that rape is rampant in the woods – to the point where even those who have not been personally assaulted are severely traumatized.

Indeed, in this densest and most inaccessible forest, sexual violence against those seeking refuge has become institutionalized. This violence can be perpetrated by local residents, paramilitary forces or a criminal group whose activities are allowed to proceed with impunity in the general context of criminal migration. chemical.

In February of this year, I went to the Darién region of Panama. Of course, I don’t have to risk my life or my physical integrity to do so – that’s the obscene and arbitrary privilege conferred by the passport of the United States, a country known for stirring move trouble around the world and then militarize its borders against anyone who wants to run away from the mess.

In the town of Metetí in the province of Darién, I spoke with Tamara Guillermo, the field coordinator of Médecins Sans Frontières (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF), who expressed horror at the “level of destruction” brutality” and extreme “cruelty” are now on display in the jungle – where sexual abuse, including against men, is still evident.

According to Guillermo, there have been recent reports of people being arrested in Darién by armed assailants and forced to take off all of their clothing in order to manually inspect the body holes, to make sure. that nothing of value is hidden. distant. Often, the women are then separated from the group and raped.

In Metetí, I also spoke to a young Venezuelan woman – we will call her Alicia – her two-year-old son threw a foam ball at me and pinched my nose during the conversation. our own, while we were distracted by a cartoon about speed-eating dinosaurs.

Alicia spent 10 days crossing Darién, she told me, and every night she cried. She had never been raped, but she had heard of many rapes, and she had witnessed many deaths – like the stooped body of an old man under a tree that “looked cold”. She met a Haitian woman whose six-month-old baby had just drowned. She was robbed of her puppy and then all of her unhidden valuables in her son’s diaper when a group of 10 hooded men stormed her group.

In Spanish, the verb “violar” can mean “to violate” – as in human rights – or to “rape”. And while Alicia may not have been physically violated in the latter sense, DariénGap is more or less considered an ongoing violation.

But Darién Gap isn’t the only way refugees have to endure brutality and frequent sexual assaults against their dignity. Around the world, we humans have demonstrated a brutal knack for exploiting vulnerable people on the move – people whose status as “migrants” often has a lot to do with the fact that they suffered a lot in life.

Take for example Libya, a major departure point for European refugees fleeing war and economic misery, which has played host to all manner of rape, slavery and torture -including children seeking refuge. While the West may try to pin the blame for the whole sinister arrangement based on the always beneficial fantasy of African barbarism, the reality is that the fault lies at the foot of Fort Europe.

Meanwhile, in northern Mexico, bipartisan xenophobia by the United States has placed countless asylum seekers directly in the hands of rapists and kidnappers. And on the island Naurulocation of Australia’s preferred foreign refugee “processing” center, a 2020 report co-published by the Refugee Council of Australia and the Refugee Resource Center note: “For many years, there have been cases of rape and sexual abuse of women in Nauru, including those who were paid to protect them.”

Speaking of the “protection” obligation, the Panamanian government has now come under fire in connection with allegations of sexual abuse and other abuse at migrant reception centers in Darién province. Forgive my pessimism about the prospect of justice.

During my time in the Darién region, I also spoke with Marilen Osinalde, MSF’s mental health manager in Metetí, who regularly cares for patients experiencing sexual and other violence. She remarked to me that, while there is a persistent stereotype in the West of rapists as “psychopaths that grab you on the street at night,” the phenomenon is quite complex. .

In the case of the Darién Gap and other migration trajectories, she explains, the context of sexual abuse against people who cross it involves assertions of power, status and immunity – as well as territory marking. The use of rape as a “weapon” in Darién, she said, also opposes and dehumanizes “The Other” migration, while reinforcing power structures.

Zoom out from Darién, and we find ourselves in a world of borders that dehumanize and criminalize those seeking refuge and those who have nothing else, all for the sake of being marking territory and strengthening power structures. The United States penetrates international borders at will while fortifying its own — and turning spaces like the Darién Gap into physical and psychological weapons.

From Panama to Libya to Nauru, a war is being waged against those deprived of not only the right to cross the border, but also the right to control the very boundaries of their bodies. And that is truly a violation of humanity.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.


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