DxO One Grant

Exploring The World

Past Winner

Central American Refugee Crisis

Christina Simons - Victoria, Australia

Central American migrants have been making the perilous journey through Central America and Mexico for over 20 years. This is an old refugee story that is ripe and fraught with danger still today. The journey across the borders is taken by riding a giant freight train called “La Bestia” (the beast) and by various other means. Children and families face violence, rape, torture and worse in doing so. Why would anyone want to risk such dangers? Because they are worse off in their own countries.

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The ‘Maras’ originated on the streets of Los Angeles in the 1980’s. Having fled from the civil wars in Honduras and El Salvador many men joined either the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) or Calle 18 (M18) street gangs. In the 1990’s the US government began deporting MS13 and M18 members back to their respective countries. Now 20 years later, these re-established ‘Maras’ are running Honduras and El Salvador into crisis. I wish to tell the story of migrant people, trapped in a nightmare between violence and rejection.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been fleeing their homes in Central America for decades, including more recently an influx of unaccompanied children. They travel via various modes of transport often across Mexico and to the United States yet the most popular is “La Bestia” (the beast). This huge freight train traverses from the south to the north of Mexico. The 1000 mile, journey is fraught with extreme dangers and takes at least 3 months. Not withstanding the risk of injury on the trains, the environmental hazards of dehydration, food and water contamination, sunburn and disease are second to the risk of theft, beatings, rape, torture, violence, kidnapping, mutilation and death.

My work on this desperate migrant issue has commenced in 2015 and continued through to 2016. I have visited several shelters where the migrants stay to await documents or food and rest, including an amazing & charitable group of women who have thrown supplies to those traveling on ‘La Bestia’ as it passes multiple times a day, for over 20 years. I have been to areas around the train depots where the migrants await a departing train.
There are many important parts to this story yet to be reported.

One such recently completed assignment was to follow a group of migrants through their journey from the Southern Mexican border north. Another was to visit the Guatemalan Border where the migrants perilously traverse a large river.

The final part which requires further funding and assistance, is to go to Honduras and/or El Salvador; meeting family members who wish to leave the country, meeting Mara gang members; those who wish to leave and those who are still embedded within these gangs. I would work with those who have left before and returned, and those with family who have already left and remain away. I would seek to understand and document the depths of desperation that drive a parent to send their children alone or their whole family into a perilous unknown journey, for just the small chance of a better life. This grant would enable the photographic reportage of this greater story, feeding my passion to know and share these untold stories with humanity.

While this issue has been covered before in parts, the story is greater than one part but rather the sum of its parts in a ripple effect on more than one country but several.



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