A Mother’s Love Does Not Allow Me to Surrender

Banner used by mothers like Rosa in the search for their missing migrant children

By Alba Miriam Amaya

The day is sunny and the heat is brutal. The central park is bustling with people who walk around wrapped in the noise coming from buses and street vendors shouting the benefits of their products. It is a typical morning in a Salvadorean town.

Rosa's voice competes with all this commotion. She is not selling anything, but her voice has to be heard and she knows it.

Rosa (43) has travelled four hours from the capital San Salvador to San Miguel. She has travelled with other women who, without hesitation, have joined the Committee of Relatives of Dead and Missing Migrants of El Salvador (COFAMIDE) and today will be on their feet under a relentless 37 degrees Celsius in the central park of the second largest city in El Salvador.

The women are part of Caravana de las Madres (a Mother’s March) and they operate from a canopy emblazoned with large photos of, and information about missing migrants, mostly young men who have gone missing seeking better opportunities beyond El Salvador’s borders.

"I'm here because my son died in Tamaulipas," Rosa says with deep emotion, but with steely determination etched on her face. "He was 23 and died at the hands of the cartels. He was my youngest son,” she says. “He said that he wanted to improve the life he had here. As parents, we try to give them what they need, but they always think they are lacking something. That’s why he left, to find a job," she says.

Several people come to the COFAMIDE stand, but they don’t stay very long. They have heard all this before and few really pay attention. Rosa distributes flyers that she expects and wants them to read. The flyers have colourful images and a fierce slogan: "Mother’s love does not allow me to surrender."

"Here is a picture of my son," says Rosa pointing at one of the flyers that she has in her hands. "He was on a bus which was about to arrive at the bus station in Reynosa (Mexico), a pair of men dressed as Federals (police) boarded. My son and other passengers were taken off the bus, into a pickup and were taken to a house. He stayed there for a month and a half. From the first days that they grabbed him, they called me asking for money. They wanted USD $4,000 for him. They called for eight consecutive days and, in the last call, they put my son on the phone. He cried and told me to send the money, but I didn´t have it. Believe me, I knocked on doors and asked around, but it's very difficult. It's really hard because no one helps you."

"Days came and went and after a month, they called again and told me that (my son) would pay in services for failure to pay the money. They were going to put him to work. I do not know what kind of work," continues Rosa.  

"Later, I learned that my son got into a car and died on the road to Rio Bravo. We saw it on the news, but they only spoke of the death of an immigrant with no documents. Then later, we knew it was him. That was hard."

The famous migueleño heat reaches the asphalt and goes up through the soles of Rosa’s old shoes. Her feet are burning but she remains, as if unaffected, handing out flyers and talking to whomever would give her time.

Her body, though tired, has been through worse: "Last year, I went to Caravana de las Madres and I hope to go again this year. Although I know about my son, I do it in support of other mothers who can´t go. Caravana de las Madres is hard because the trip that we make is the same as the one that the migrants take: we sleep in hostels, we eat like them. We take pictures and so we help other families find their children. This helps parents who stay behind to get answers. "

"Caravana de las Madres is made every year and it involves mothers from Central America and sometimes fathers too. We look for information in prisons, hospitals, places where women are sold, we look for our children with photographs in parks and sometimes people say ‘we’ve seen him’ and that's how we collect information."

Mexico is one of the most dynamic global migration corridors as it borders the United States, one of the main countries of destination on the planet. Although it’s difficult to quantify, the National Migration Institute (INM) estimates that, per year, there are around 140,000 irregular migrants entering Mexico, mainly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The people travelling to the north of the continent irregularly are forced to travel through isolated areas where they are exposed to attacks by criminals. The main routes used are Chiapas and Tabasco, in Mexico. According to official figures of the US Border Patrol, between October 2013 and September 2014, there have been more than 300 deaths on the border between the United States and Mexico.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is aware of this. To help the governments protect the human rights of migrants, it has provided equipment and training to the Salvadoran consular network in order to help it to record rights violations.

Last July, IOM completed a training program with Salvadoran consular staff to contribute to the protection of migrants. The training was provided simultaneously in the cities of Monterrey and Veracruz, in Mexico, and included six modules of theoretical, statistical and practical elements, as well as intervention tools for assistance, care and protection of victims of human rights violations.

The subjects studied with Salvadoran officials included an analysis of immigration laws and regulations on human rights existing in Mexico and the United States; observation techniques, analysis and documentation of cases of serious crimes; identification of profiles of victims and perpetrators; psychosocial profiles of the migrants in transit; psychological first aid (PAP) and an introduction to international protection and international refugee law.

The training was provided by staff from IOM as well as from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Foundation for Access to Justice and Democratic State of Mexico, and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF). The trainings are part of the project called Migration Flows of Salvadorans to the United States of America, sponsored by IOM Fund for Development.

With IOM support, the consulates of Tapachula, Veracruz, Monterrey, Acayucan, Arriaga, Tenosique and the Federal District of Mexico City; as well as McAllen, Houston, Los Angeles and Tucson in the United States, have the tools for assistance, care, screening and protection of vulnerable migrants. With all this support, the Salvadoran government can better support mothers like Rosa.

As evening draws near, bringing with it a slight breeze to the park, Rosa rests a little while another mother delivers flyers. It is almost time to pack things up and return to San Salvador.

Downcast and tired, Rosa reflects: "To the people who want to migrate that way, I would say don´t. I have lived a very difficult experience with my son and want to say that if I... if I could stop this...  This is not easy. To look for your children knowing that they are in the hands of the cartels ... It is not easy. Here you walk freely and go anywhere you want. It’s not like that over there. There, things are not as they paint them. It’s all a lie. It is the worst lie that they give," says Rosa, as her eyes fill with tears.

For more on COFAMIDE, please go to:  http://cofamide.blogspot.com/