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Migrants tell of nightmarish journeys in trucks to the United States

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CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO (AFP) – Mr Jose Mario Licona and his family spent 18 hours in a refrigerated truck being smuggled to the Mexico-US border – a trip he considers himself lucky to have survived.

Others were less fortunate, including dozens of migrants from Mexico and Central America who were found dead on Monday (June 27) after being abandoned in a suffocating tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas.

A total of 53 people died in the incident.

Mr. Licona knew only too well the dangers of entrusting his life to criminal gangs smuggling migrants in often overcrowded and poorly ventilated trucks.

But the smugglers – who were paid US$13,000 (S$18,100) by his relatives to take him, his wife and three children to Texas – left him no choice, he said. declared.

“When you make a deal, the first thing you ask (the smugglers) is not to put them in a container, but during the journey they do whatever they want,” Mr Licona said at a shelter. from the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez. .

“Often they leave the containers abandoned” with people locked inside, says the 48-year-old Honduran.

Mr. Licona, his wife and children aged two, six and eight traveled in a truck from Mexico City to the northeastern town of Reynosa, just south of Hidalgo, Texas.

About 100 people were traveling in the same vehicle, which was not checked once by Mexican authorities during the more than 1,000 km journey, Licona said.

From Reynosa, the family crossed the border on foot, but they were turned away by US authorities.

“Criminal Enterprises”

The smuggling networks exploiting the tractor-trailers are increasingly sophisticated, said Ms Dolores Paris, a migration expert at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte.

“We’re talking about criminal enterprises,” she said.

The tractor-trailer involved in the San Antonio tragedy passed through two immigration checkpoints in Texas and had cloned license plates, according to the Mexican government.

Investigators are still trying to establish where the vehicle began its journey.