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In God's Hands

Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans risk their lives each year trying to reach the United States. The UN estimates that some 25 million of them have now immigrated to the US. Most migrants these days come from Central America where poverty, lack of work and an ever increasing level of drug related violence is making daily life a struggle for many.

'What most caught my attention was the desperation that drives a person to leave everything behind. I understood that migration is forced, that these people don't have a choice. They leave their countries in order to survive' Markel notes about his encounter with many of the migrants.

The constant trickle of hopeful people heading North through Central America - by train, road and on foot - has opened a lucrative sideline business for criminal gangs - already steeped in the drug trade - to extort money from the families of would-be migrants.

According to the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico, some 10,000 migrants are kidnapped each year in Mexico alone. The captors, mainly Zetas - a gang of former military personnel turned criminals - demand between USD 1,500 and 5,000 in exchange for the hostages, depending on where their families live - in the US or in their country of origin. If relatives are unable or unwilling to pay, the migrants, who are often from poor backgrounds, are executed and their bodies dumped.

"The money has reduced us to the level of goods", reflects Father Alejandro Solalinde, who runs a migrant shelter in Ixtepec, Oaxaca.

One of the cruelest episodes of violence against migrants took place in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas in August 2010, when 72 men and women from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador and Brazil were executed in cold blood. The perpetrators were Zeta members. Nearly all those killed were young men who could not pay the money demanded by their executioners. Few of these cases are reported in the media.

In 2010, the US authorities deported over 340,000 immigrants according to Human Rights Watch. Meanwhile, Mexico deported about 60,000 people who crossed into its territory. The police, who sometimes extort money from them, treat migrants as criminals. It is not known how many people have died trying to cross into the US through the Arizona desert. A report from the National Migration Institute reveals that between 1998 and 2008, 60,000 migrants disappeared in Mexico during their journey to the US.

Markel Redondo met people all along the route taken by tens of thousands of migrants - their fate, according to many of them, "in God's hands".

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