When Carolina’s captors arrived at dawn to pull her out of the stash house in the Mexican border city of Reynosa in late May, she thought they were going to force her to call her family in Venezuela again to beg them to pay $2,000 ransom.
Instead, one of the men shoved her onto a broken-down bus parked outside and raped her, she told Reuters. “It’s the saddest, most horrible thing that can happen to a person,” Carolina said.
A migrant advocate who assisted Carolina after the kidnapping, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity due to security concerns, confirmed all the details of her account.
The attack came amid an increase in sexual violence against migrants in the border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros, both major transit routes for immigrants seeking to enter the US, according to data from the Mexican government and humanitarian groups, as well as interviews with eight sexual assault survivors and more than a dozen local aid workers.
“The inhumane way smugglers abuse, extort, and perpetrate violence against migrants for profit is criminal and morally reprehensible,” US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson Luis Miranda said in response to questions about the rise in reported rapes.
Criminal investigations into the rape of foreign nationals, excluding Americans, were the highest on record in the two cities this year, according to state data from 2014 to 2023 obtained by Reuters through freedom of information requests.
The US State Department considers Tamaulipas, where the two cities are located, to be the most dangerous state along the US-Mexico border.
Facing record illegal border crossings, US President Joe Biden’s administration in May moved to a new system that required migrants to secure an appointment – via an app known as CBP One – to present themselves at a legal border crossing to enter the United States.
Nine experts, including lawyers, medical professionals, and aid workers, told Reuters the new system has had unintended consequences in the two cities, contributing to a spike in violence.
The high risk of kidnapping and sexual assault in Reynosa and Matamoros is one of the factors pushing migrants to cross illegally, four advocates said. Crossings border-wide surged in September.
Biden officials say the new CBP policy is more humane because it reduces the need for migrants to pay smugglers and criminal groups to ferry them across the border illegally.
The experts said many asylum seekers are no longer paying smugglers to get them across the border – instead traveling towards the frontier on their own, hoping to make an appointment on the app.
But criminal groups are still demanding these migrants pay to enter their territory, the experts said.
“Rape is part of the torture process to get the money,” said Bertha Bermúdez Tapia, a sociologist at New Mexico State University researching the impacts of Biden’s policy on migrants in Tamaulipas.
The Gulf Cartel and the Northeast Cartel are both active in the region and kidnap migrants for ransom, particularly those who arrive without smugglers’ protection, according to security analysts. Reuters was unable to contact the two groups.
Some migrants are also spending more time in the dangerous region, waiting to secure an appointment on the app. Tens of thousands of people a day are competing for 1,450 slots, according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
A senior CBP official based in Washington said CBP was troubled by reports of migrants sexually assaulted in the two cities.
“It’s absolutely something that we’re concerned about,” said the official, who requested anonymity as a condition of the interview.
US authorities temporarily suspended CBP One appointments in June in another Tamaulipas border city, Nuevo Laredo, due to “extortion and kidnapping concerns,” the official said.
However, Miranda, the DHS spokesperson, said the administration’s policies made it unnecessary to wait at the border since migrants could book an appointment from other parts of Central and Northern Mexico.
More than 250,000 migrants have scheduled appointments on the CBP One app, and over 200,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans have entered the United States by air under a separate Biden humanitarian program, according to CBP statistics.
Carolina said she arrived in Reynosa the night of May 26 on a commercial bus with her 13-year-old son. Men began trailing them as soon as they arrived at the bus station, she said.
“They said we couldn’t be there without their permission,” she said, speaking from Chicago.
The US State Department warns that criminal groups in Tamaulipas target buses “often taking passengers and demanding ransom payments.”
The men whisked Carolina away to a house where she said she and other migrants were raped.
She said she was freed after family members paid $3,100 in ransom. Reuters was unable to independently verify the payment. She did not report the attack to police, saying she saw no point.
An Ecuadoran woman said that while in captivity in Reynosa her kidnappers repeatedly allowed a drug dealer to rape her in exchange for his deliveries of a white powder, which she suspected was cocaine.
One night, she clutched her figurine of the Christ child, tiptoed past her sleeping captors, and escaped through the window. “I still have nightmares,” she said, speaking from New Jersey in August.
Reuters is withholding the full names of the survivors at their request. To corroborate their accounts, Reuters reviewed medical and psychological reports; criminal complaints and legal declarations; financial records, photos and videos supplied by the survivors, attorneys and advocates.
The state attorney general’s office has opened seven rape investigations of foreign women in the first half of 2023. Four were opened in June alone.
Only one of the eight survivors Reuters interviewed reported the attack to authorities: a Honduran woman who said she was raped inside a migrant camp in Matamoros in late May. No one has been arrested, authorities said.
Olivia Lemus, head of Tamaulipas’ human rights commission, said official data represents a fraction of the cases. “Migrants are afraid to file reports,” Lemus said. “The fact that there aren’t more reports doesn’t mean that this crime isn’t occurring.”
Mexico’s national migration agency, Tamaulipas’ security agency, and Mexico’s foreign ministry did not answer questions about sexual violence against migrants.
Juan Rodriguez, head of the Tamaulipas migrant services agency, said the agency was “attentive” to the issue.
“Unfortunately, sometimes things happen. We can’t deny it.”
A Venezuelan migrant said he was kidnapped in May in Reynosa by a cartel while traveling to the border for his confirmed CBP One appointment. He couldn’t raise the full $800 ransom, so he was forced to work for two months to pay off the remaining $200, he said.
Two other migrants who said they were held at the house during the same time period confirmed the man was forced to work against his will, and that they heard female migrants being raped.
On the nights the Venezuelan man was tasked with standing guard over the other migrants, he said he watched the cartel members ask the man in charge of the house for permission to rape the women of their choosing.
He said the answer was always the same: “Take her.”
Climate fund hailed, but ‘needs billions rather than millions’
The launch of a climate “loss and damage” fund drew praise and hundreds of millions of dollars in pledges at the UN’s COP28 talks on Thursday but also warnings that much more is needed to help vulnerable nations.
“We have delivered history today,” the UAE’s COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber told delegates who stood and applauded after the decision’s adoption in Dubai.
The announcement was followed immediately by financial pledges, including 225 million euros ($246 million) from the European Union, $100 million from the United Arab Emirates, another $100 million from Germany, $40 million from Britain, $17.5 million from the United States and $10 million from Japan.
After years of dragging their feet on the issue, wealthy nations backed the fund in a landmark agreement at the COP27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, last year.
Its launch on the first day of COP28 follows fraught negotiations on the mechanics of the fund, which will be housed at the World Bank on an interim basis.
“This sends a positive signal of momentum to the world,” Jaber said.
He said it was “the first time a decision has been adopted on day one of any COP and the speed in which we have done so is also unique, phenomenal and historic.”
“This is evidence that we can deliver. COP28 can and will deliver,” he added.
Environmental activists hold a banner during a climate strike action in Paris, France, June 23, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
But the money pledged so far fall well short of the $100 billion that developing nations — which have historically been least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions — have said are needed to cover losses from natural disasters.
“The progress we’ve made in establishing a loss and damage fund is hugely significant for climate justice, but an empty fund can’t help our people,” said Madeleine Diouf Sarr, chair of the Group of the 46 Least Developed Countries.
The Alliance of Small Island States — among the most impacted by rising seas and other effects of climate change — said “the work is far from over”.
“We cannot rest until this fund is adequately financed and starts to actually alleviate the burden of vulnerable communities,” it said.
“Success starts when the international community can properly support the victims of this climate crisis, with efficient, direct access to the finance they urgently need,” the group added.
Rachel Cleetus, policy director of the climate and energy programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the financial commitments should be “in the billions, not millions”.
“Millions would be an insult given what’s happening already around the world,” Cleetus told reporters.
“We want to hear the starting point is a conversation about billions and then a plan to scale it up by 2030 so that it meets the needs that are clearly rising,” she said.
The fund will be housed in the World Bank for four years, a decision that developing nations begrudgingly accepted as the Washington-based institution is dominated by Western powers.
Its board members must now be appointed and represent wealthy and developing nations, and their first steps will be critical in building up its credibility.
A European diplomat said the first contributions will enable the financing of pilot projects and to test how the fund works before seeking more money “in a year or a year-and-a-half”.
Developed countries, the US chief among them, insisted that contributions be on a voluntary basis, and want richer emerging powers such as China and Saudi Arabia to open their wallets, too.
US climate envoy John Kerry said the government would work with Congress to provide the $17.5 million pledge and said the US expects the fund to “draw from a wide variety of sources”.
Richard Sherman, the South African co-chair of the committee that oversaw negotiations, acknowledged that “the outcome might not be satisfactory to all people.
“We certainly know that our colleagues in civil society have been shouting at us.”
‘Let us be a lesson’, Kazakhs wary of return to nuclear testing
As Russia warns of the rising risk of nuclear war, and relations with the United States sink into a deep freeze, communities close to the vast Soviet-era nuclear testing site in northern Kazakhstan have a message for leaders: “Let us be a lesson.”
Hundreds of tests were carried out between 1949 and 1989 on the barren steppe near the city of Semey, formerly known as Semipalatinsk, close to the Kazakh-Russian border. The effect of radiation had a devastating impact on the environment and local people’s health, and continues to affect lives there today.
Many nuclear proliferation experts believe resuming testing by either nuclear superpower more than 30 years after the last test is unlikely soon.
But tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led to increasingly hostile rhetoric, and the arms control architecture built since the Soviet Union’s collapse more than three decades ago has begun to unravel.
In early November, President Vladimir Putin revoked Russia’s ratification of the 1996 global treaty banning nuclear weapons tests. Moscow says it will not lead to a resumption of testing unless the United States does first.
“Let our suffering be a lesson to others,” said Serikbay Ybyrai, local leader in the village of Saryzhal, who saw tests being carried out some 20 km (12 miles) away when he was a boy. “If this (testing) resumes, humanity will disappear.”
When devices were detonated above ground – until 1963 when tests went underground – authorities would order local people out of homes and schools because of fears that ground tremors might cause buildings to collapse.
“I remember I was about five years old,” said Baglan Gabullin, a resident of Kaynar, another village that lived under the shadow of nuclear testing.
He recalled how adults would instruct him and his friends not to look in the direction of the blast.
“We were small, so on the contrary, out of curiosity we looked. The flash was yellow at first, and then the black mushroom grew,” he said.
Kazakh authorities estimate up to 1.5 million people were exposed to residual radioactive fallout from testing. Over 1 million received certificates confirming their status as victims of tests, making them eligible for an 18,000-tenge ($40) monthly payout.
‘Everyone started dying’
Maira Abenova, an activist from the Semey region who set up a non-governmental organisation protecting the rights of nuclear test victims after losing most family members to diseases she said were related, urged politicians not to allow nuclear escalation.
“As someone living with the consequences of what you could call 40 years of nuclear warfare, I think we can tell the world what we have gone through,” she said.
There is little reliable data on the specific health impact of testing in Kazakhstan.
But scientists say exposure to radioactive material on the ground, inhalation of radioactive particles in the air and ingestion of contaminated food including local livestock contributed to increased cancer risk and cases of congenital malformation.
UN climate talks open in oil-rich UAE, pressure for urgent action
The UN climate conference opened Thursday with nations urged to make faster cuts to planet-warming emissions and phase out fossil fuels as scepticism swirls over the oil-rich United Arab Emirates hosting the talks.
The two-week-long negotiations in a vast exhibition venue in Dubai come at a pivotal moment, with emissions still climbing and the UN saying this year is likely to be the hottest in human history.
World leaders, Britain’s King Charles III and activists and lobbyists are among more than 97,000 people jetting into the flashy Gulf city, which boasts the world’s tallest skyscraper, one of its busiest airports, and an indoor ski slope.
Double the size of last year’s conference, COP28 is billed as the largest-ever climate gathering and the UN and hosts the UAE say they will be the most important since Paris 2015.
There, nations agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial era, and preferably to a safer limit of 1.5C.
But scientists say the world is off-track, and the nearly 200 nations gathering for COP28 must commit to accelerating climate action or risk the worst impacts of a warming planet.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said leaders should aim for a complete “phaseout” of fossil fuels, a proposal opposed by some powerful nations that has dogged past negotiations.
“Obviously, I am strongly in favour of language that includes (a) phaseout, even with a reasonable time framework,” Guterres told AFP before flying to Dubai.
A central focus will be a stocktake of the world’s limited progress on curbing global warming, which requires an official response at these talks.
Hosts under fire
On Thursday, nations are expected to formally approve the launch of a “loss and damage” fund to compensate climate-vulnerable countries after a year of hard-fought negotiations over how it would work.
But it remains to be filled, with rich nations urged to make contributions so the money can start flowing.
The UAE sees itself as a bridge between the rich developed nations most responsible for historic emissions and the rest of the world, which has contributed less to global warming but suffers its worst consequences.
But the decision for it to host has attracted a firestorm of criticism, particularly as the man appointed to steer the talks, Sultan Al Jaber, is also head of UAE state oil giant ADNOC.
Jaber, who also chairs a clean energy company, has defended his record, and strenuously denied this week that he used the COP presidency to pursue new fossil fuel deals, allegations first reported by the BBC.
Christiana Figueres, who was UN climate chief when the Paris deal was reached, questioned the role of fossil fuel companies at COP and said she was “giving up hope” they could be part of the solution to warming.
Guterres said Jaber was in a better position to tell the oil industry that a fossil fuel phaseout was necessary than “if he was the member of an NGO with a very solid pro-climate record.”
“A very clear signal that the era of fossil fuels needs to end very rapidly is our litmus test for COP28,” said Romain Ioualalen, global policy campaign manager at Oil Change International.
Rule by consensus
Rallying a common position on the matter will be difficult at COP where all nations — whether dependent on oil, sinking beneath rising seas or locked in geopolitical rivalry — must take decisions unanimously.
The UAE hopes to marshal an agreement on the tripling of renewable energy and doubling the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.
Nations will navigate a range of thorny issues between November 30 and December 12, and experts say geopolitical tensions and building trust could be a huge challenge.
At the opening of the conference, delegates were asked to pause for a minute’s silence for civilians killed in the Gaza conflict.
On the sidelines of COP, Israeli President Isaac Herzog will hold talks with diplomats on the release of hostages held by Hamas, his office said. He is also scheduled to speak on Friday within minutes of Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority.
Neither US President Joe Biden nor Chinese President Xi Jinping are attending, though Washington is sending Vice President Kamala Harris.
But the US and China, the world’s two biggest polluters, did make a rare joint announcement on the climate this month that spurred optimism going into COP.
Imran urges CJP Isa’s attention towards PTI’s ‘victimization’
PCB reveals schedule of National T20 Super 8
Long wait for freedom: Afghan refugees in limbo
Pakistan team finally issued visas for World Cup in India
Regional players to meet in Russia on Afghanistan
Attack plots the norm since Danish cartoon crisis: experts
Business4 weeks ago
With larger fall, rupee near 1-month low
Sports3 weeks ago
Thrilling MotoGP title duel goes to Malaysia
Technology4 weeks ago
TikTok CEO to meet top EU chiefs amid disinformation worries
World3 weeks ago
Israel intensifies brutal Gaza strikes despite ceasefire calls
World4 weeks ago
Woman shouting ‘You’re all going to die’ shot by police in France
World3 weeks ago
Saudi Arabia to host extraordinary joint Islamic-Arab summit
World2 weeks ago
Israel warning to Lebanon sharpens amidst cross-border enmity
Pakistan2 weeks ago
Use of force by any militia, entity or group ‘unacceptable’: COAS