Exodus | By Nicolò Filippo Rosso
In Latin America, lack of job opportunities, limited access to education, and political corruption have persisted for generations, fueling cycles of violence and displacement that are both symptoms and causes of disrupted societies. I have documented this phenomenon for the past four years, traveling along migration routes from Venezuela to Colombia and from Central America to Mexico and the United States. Following migrants from different countries for such a long time, I have seen countless stories of loss and separation through the eyes of the most vulnerable: those who are born, grow and die on the move.
Migrants sit in a truck at Paraguachón, Colombia’s border town, heading to the central city of Maicao. August 11, 2018. Paraguachón, La Guajira, Colombia.
A man runs honding his dauther in his harms, trying to hide from the Guatemalan police in Vado Hondo, Guatemala on January 18th, 2021.
Migrants crowd onto a truck at the entrance of an illegal dirt-road connecting Colombia and Venezuela in La Guajira, Colombia. The 2219 km long frontier between the two countries only counts on seven official immigration checkpoints. Venezuelan refugees are exposed to abuse, trafficking, and recruitment in no men’s borderlands where illegal groups and gangs control people’s movement and smuggling. July 6, 2018. Paraguachón, La Guajira, Colombia.
Frankilina Epiayu, a Wayuu indigenous midwife, kneads the belly of a pregnant Venezuelan girl in an informal settlement in Uribia, in La Guajira department. There, no border exists for the Wayuu people, who consider themselves a unique nation, although their territory belong to different countries. Making up for the government’s and the international agencies’ incomplete response, midwives like Frankilina respond to emergencies and help women give birth safely in Colombia. According to the indigenous cosmogony, indigenous people in Colombia are given a place of origin corresponding to where their placenta is buried. Burying it in the earth, and after natural childbirth, midwives ensure to the children of the exodus a spiritual right to identity, even though they won’t be granted legal status if the parents entered Colombia illegally. July 5, 2019. Uribia, La Guajira, Colombia.
Venezuelan children hold plastic bottles filled with water while they wait in line for a free meal at a charity organization in Paraguachón, Colombia. According to UNICEF, out of the 1.8 million Venezuelans settled in Colombia, 430 thousand are children and adolescents. Migrant children are trapped in a dangerous environment and, without access to education, they are born and grow with no horizon of comparison for their condition. As the unstable environment doesn’t change, the children and the adolescents I have met seem to have learned to live with a constant feeling of danger and exacerbated alertness. August 10, 2019. Paraguachón, La Guajira, Colombia.
People follow a path to enter Colombia illegally, near Villa del Rosario in North Santander, Colombia, one of the busiest regions for border crossings. Even though Venezuela officially closed its land border with Colombia in February 2020, around 300 clandestine crossing points remained active. The illegal border crossing in both directions has made epidemiological monitoring impossible, increasing the population’s risk of contagion. Without data of people leaving and entering Colombia and people infected by Covid-19, it is hard for international agencies and NGOs to respond to the health crisis. October 9, 2018. Villa Del Rosario, Norte de Santander, Colombia.
A child walks in the outskirts of the city of Tapachula, in Chiapas, Mexico. She and her family left Honduras in January 2021. At the time of the photograph, the family was with her. January 29th, 2021.
A Venezuelan couple observes their newborn in an incubator at the Erasmo Meoz Hospital in Cucuta, Colombia. May 22, 2018. Early in 2020, the Colombian government announced two new Special Stay Permits that would allow more than 100,000 Venezuelans to stay and work in the country, and ruled that children born in the country to Venezuelan parents could acquire Colombian nationality. Still, vast numbers of people remain dispossessed.
Jessica Rivas, 30 lays down as she fainted durign the clashes between migrants and police officers in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, on January 18th, 2021. Her 4-years-old son Isaac cries as his mother doesn’t wake up.
As I documented migrants’ journeys, I kept in mind the diversity of reasons that push each population to emigrate. Still, I also understood how the political persecutions, the impunity, and the problematic access to primary rights such as food and healthcare broadly affect Latin America’s societies, provoking mass migrations across the continent. Decades of civil war, endemic poverty, or violence make it hard for migrants to find better conditions than those they are fleeing.
An approximate 10 thousand Honduran migrants move by walk and on trucks towards a barricade made by Guatemalan police officers to prevent them to continue their journey in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, on January 18th, 2021.
Crossing borderlands controlled by gangs and rebel groups, people are exposed to trafficking and recruitment. There, coming of age is arduous. In a state of constant alertness, adolescents often tend to duplicate models of violence as a way to survive in the sole environment they have known. For thousands of children born during the migration, the hurdles of a stateless condition will prevent them from acquiring fundamental freedoms, which could expose them to exclusion and discrimination in the societies they will try to integrate. Some people never reach their destination. Others continue to move, often on foot, dreaming of finding safer places where they will start a new chapter of their lives.
Unaccompained minors sit as they wait to be taken into custody by Custums and Border Patrol officers in La Joya, Texas.
Police arrest a Venezuelan migrant accused of theft in Maicao, Colombia. The poverty and the precarious living conditions in the migrants’ settlements and the border towns’ streets push some into criminal survival strategies. Because of the pandemic, a greater social instability has hit Colombia, and with greater precarity, xenophobia has risen. Colombian citizens are concerned about migrants gathering in the streets, informal camps, and migration routes because that could contribute to spread the virus. August, 15, 2018. Maicao, La Guajira, Colombia.
A migrant from Venezuela carries an old woman as she fainted while they were crossing the Rio Grande River to enter the United States in Del Rio, Texas. may 26, 2021.
Maria Maricela Tomas Aguillon, 21-years-old, sits in the church during the funeral of her cousin Santa Cristina Garcia, Rivaldo Jimenez Ramirez, and Ivan Gudiel Pablo on March 14, 2021, in Tuilelen, Comitancillo, Guatemala. Santa Cristina Garcia, 20-years-old, had tried to reach the United States to work and save money to afford surgery on her youngest sister’s cleft palate. Twelve Mexican police officers are under trial for manslaughter. Comitancillo, Guatemala. March 14, 2021.
A woman crosses the Rio Grande with two children in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Asylum seekers often turn themselves in to the American authorities in order to initiate a formal request for political asylum. However, hundreds of families are expelled and returned to Mexico. Their asylum claims are denied with arguments based on Title 42, a US statute that allows the expulsion of migrants from a country where a virus such as Covid-19 is present.
A group of migrants climb the wall of a truck to get a ride in the attempt to reach Bogotá from the border, Colombia.
A man leads a group of migrants across the Rio Grande while an American soldier points to an easy docking point. Roma, Texas. May 28, 2021.
Nicoló Filippo Rosso (b.1985) is an Italian documentary photographer living between South, Central, and North America. After graduating with a degree in Literature at the Università Degli Studi Di Torino in Italy, he moved to Latin America, living mainly in Colombia for the past ten years. Witnessing stories of trauma, inequality, and injustices that have shattered the region for generations, he chose to tell stories of abandoned communities, mass migration crises, conflict, and climate change. Since 2018, he has documented the migration movements across the continent for his project Exodus. Other works include Forgotten in Dust, a project about desertification, coal exploitation, child mortality, and malnutrition among the indigenous Wayuu of La Guajira in Colombia. In 2021, he received the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Award for Humanistic Photography. Recognitions to his work include the Getty Editorial Grant, World Press Photo, International Photography Award, World Report Award, Premio Ponchielli, Prix ANI-PixTrack. Rosso is a regular contributor at The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Bloomberg News, and The Washington Post. He has given lectures about photography and journalism in universities in Colombia, Europe, and the United States.
Photo Essay edited by Alejandra Martínez Moreno