Osman Ali grew up near southern Somalia’s Shabelle river that was once deep enough for him to dive in for a swim. But in the last three years, droughts have thinned it into a dirty stream, wilting his corn and sesame crops and reducing his sheep and goats to skin and bones. Left at the mercy of armed extortionists he couldn’t pay, the 29-year-old sold his family’s land and bought a ticket to Brazil. A two-month-long trudge through jungles, rivers and cities brought him to Tapachula in Mexico, with hopes of heading to the US southern border.
Like him, Ibrahima Coulibaly waited in the sweltering heat on a sidewalk outside Tapachula’s immigration office in a yellow Lakers basketball jersey. He left his home near Tambacounda in eastern Senegal after a series of droughts destroyed his millet, peanut and bean crops, leaving his family with little to eat. He sold his 32 head of cattle and embarked on a long journey to the Americas. Arriving in Brazil earlier this year and robbed in the Darien Gap — the dense jungle between Colombia and Panama infested with poisonous snakes and bandits — Coulibaly was desperate for a permit to continue crossing Mexico to get to the US border.