Rape as a weapon in the war on asylum seekers
The first time I spoke with survivors Darren Gap – the infamously deadly stretch of jungle on the border between Colombia and Panama – it was 2021 during my brief time Imprisonment in Siglo XXIthe largest migrant detention center in Mexico, is located in the Mexican state of Chiapas near the border with Guatemala.
I was the only detainee who hailed from the United States – the country responsible for Mexico’s immigration crackdown in the first place – and I had They ended up in an immigrant prison Purely because of my stupidity and my laziness in renewing my tourist visa. My fellow prisoners were facing somewhat more existential dilemmas, many of whom—from Haiti, Cuba, Bangladesh, and beyond—have been forced to traverse the Darien Gap as they flee political and economic disaster in hopes of eventually finding sanctuary in the United States. .
Within the walls of Siglo XXI, where dreams of asylum are hung indefinitely, Darién was a frequent topic of conversation—a sort of spontaneous exercise in group therapy, it seems. The women recounted the many bodies they encountered during their travels. It was clear that rape was rife in the woods – so much so that even those who had not been personally assaulted, experienced the trauma vicariously.
Indeed, it is in these denser and more porous forests that sexual violence against asylum seekers has become institutionalized. Such violence may be perpetrated by local populations, paramilitary groups, or a group of criminal actors whose activities are allowed to proceed with impunity in the general context of criminal immigration.
In February this year, I have been to the Darien region of Panama. I of course did not have to risk my life or physical integrity to do so – like the outrageous and arbitrary privilege granted by a US passport, a country known for stirring up trouble around the world and then militarizing its borders against anyone who wished to. to escape from the chaos.
In the town of Métiti in Darien province, I spoke with Tamara Guillermo, field coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF), who expressed her horror at the “level of savagery” and extreme “savagery” currently apparent in the forest – where sexual abuse remains. , including against men, on par on the course.
According to Guillermo, there has been a recent spike in reports from people being held in Darien by armed assailants and forced to remove all their clothing for a manual inspection of the bodily orifices, to ensure that nothing of value was found. far. Often, the women would then be separated from the group and raped.
In Meteti, I also spoke with a young Venezuelan woman—we’ll call her Alicia—whose two-year-old son threw a ball of foam in my face and pinched my nose throughout our conversation, in between distracting me with a cartoon about a Velociraptor.
Alicia, she told me, had spent 10 days crossing the Darien River, crying every night. She had not been raped, but had heard of many rapes, and seen many deaths—such as the body of an old man hunched over under a tree that “seemed cold.” She met a Haitian woman whose six-month-old baby had drowned. She had had her puppy stolen and all the valuables that weren’t hidden in her son’s diaper when a group of 10 masked men descended upon her group.
In Spanish, the verb “Violar” can mean either “to violate”—as in human rights—or “to rape.” And while Alicia may not have been physically violated in the latter sense, Darien Gap can be seen as one continuous violation.
But Darien’s Gap is not the only path that asylum seekers have to endure brutal and oftentimes sexual abuse of their dignity. All over the world, we humans have shown a sadistic knack for exploiting vulnerable people on the go – people whose “migrant” status is usually associated with the fact that they’ve already suffered tremendously in life.
Take Libya, for example, an essential staging post for refugees heading to Europe fleeing war and economic misery, which has hosted all kinds of Rape, slavery and torture – Including children seeking asylum. Try as the West may blame the entire evil arrangement on the enduring fantasy of African savagery, the truth is that the blame lies squarely at the feet of Fortress Europe.
Meanwhile, in northern Mexico, the United States’ bipartisan xenophobic policy has placed countless asylum seekers directly into the hands of rapists and kidnappers. And on an island Nauruthe site of Australia’s preferred overseas asylum ‘processing’ centre, a 2020 report jointly published by the Australian Refugee Council and the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre. maleFor years, there have been tragic accounts of rape and sexual abuse of females on Nauru, including by those who paid to protect them.
Speaking of supposed “protection,” Panamanian authorities have now come under fire for allegations of sexual assault and other abuse at migrant reception centers in Darien Province. Forgive my pessimism about the prospects for justice.
During my stay in the Darien region, I also spoke with Marilyn Osinaldi, MSF’s mental health manager in Mitete, who regularly takes care of patients who have suffered sexual and other forms of violence. Lee notes that while there is a persistent Western stereotype of rapists as “a psycho who catches you on the street at night,” this phenomenon is much more complex.
She explained that in the case of the Darien Gap and other migrant trails, the spectacle of sexual assault against people crossing it is about asserting power, status, and impunity – and also about marking territory. She said the use of rape as a “weapon” in Darien objectifies and dehumanizes “other” migrants, further entrenching power structures.
Zoom out from Darién, and we find ourselves in a world of borders that criminalize and criminalize asylum seekers and other have-nots, all in the interest of defining territory and strengthening power structures. The United States traverses international borders at will while fortifying its borders – turning spaces like Darien’s Gap into a physical and psychological weapon.
From Panama to Libya to Nauru, a war is being waged against people who are denied not only the right to cross borders but also the right to control the borders of their own bodies. This is really a violation of humanity.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.