Nepali Times
From The Nepali Press
El Norte, Nagarik

After a bird flu scare forced him to abandon his poultry farm in Tanahu, and with no other way to take care of his family, Mohan Gurung left Kathmandu six months ago to seek his fortune in America.

He flew through Doha to Brazil and travelled overland from Sao Paulo to Guatemala City via Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras. The 32-year-old Gurung is still in Guatemala, but four other friends from his village in Tanahu have already entered the US.

"We hope to be in America in the New Year," Gurung said in a Skype conversation from Guatemala City, speaking on condition that his name be altered. "It has been a harrowing journey, but we are now excited because we are so close to reaching our goal."

A network of human traffickers have facilitated Gurung's journey so far, handing their human cargo of migrants from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka from one country to another across South and Central America.

Gurung's journey began when he found out that a certain Dilip Gurung smuggled people to America, and paid him Rs 500,000 to take him up to Brazil. Gurung and four other friends easily crossed immigration at Kathmandu airport on 27 June even though they didn't have Brazil visas. At Doha airport, they talked their way through check-in by saying they were transiting Brazil to go to Bolivia.

After landing in Sao Paulo, they flew on to Cochabamba in Bolivia where they got visa on arrival and travelled on to La Paz. After getting a Brazil visa, they flew back to Sao Paulo where Gurung and his friends worked in restaurants earning $450 a month till September. In Brazil Gurung met many Indians, Bangladeshis, and Nepalis waiting to be taken to the US and joined one group, paying $900 to be taken up to Bolivia.

An Indian trafficker took them from Bolivia to Peru for $400 each where they were forced to destroy their passports and all travel documents. From Peru they were taken across the border to Ecuador and then to Colombia where they encountered military checkpoints, but easily passed through by bribing soldiers. They had to cross thick jungles to sneak into Panama, surrendered at an army checkpoint where they were given health checkups and sent on their way. The Indians don't have it so good in Panama, where they are detained and deported if found to be from India.

Costa Rica was the next stop and it was relatively more difficult because the authorities detain illegal immigrants, and finger-print them if they want to apply for asylum. But Gurung's group were given a 'Salida' exit document that required them to leave Costa Rica within a week.

Passing through Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras to Guatemala was smooth and on each step of the way, they were handed over by one set of traffickers to another. Some traffickers take migrants in boats from Colombia, and some have perished at sea. Gurung is now waiting in Guatemala for his family to send him money so he can pay the traffickers who will take him to Mexico and to America.

Since April 2012, there have been 480 Nepalis who have passed through Guatemala of whom 400 have made it across the border to the US, but 180 of them have been caught at the border at US immigration.

Despite the risk and the expense, Gurung thinks the trip is worth it because of the chance of earning money so he can pay debts, and take care of his wife and family back in Tanahu. So far, he has spent Rs 500,000 to pay the agent in Kathmandu, and another $8,000 to a series of traffickers from Brazil to Guatemala. Now he needs a further $6,000 to pay the final installment to get into the US. Once he gets the money transferred from Nepal, he is off.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)