Boat capsizes: Eight Chinese migrants dead on Mexico beach

Marlon Sorto, CNN | 4/2/2024, 4:05 p.m.
Eight Chinese migrants have been found dead on the coast of southern Mexico, authorities said, after their boat capsized along …

Eight Chinese migrants have been found dead on the coast of southern Mexico, authorities said, after their boat capsized along a popular but perilous route for illegally entering the United States.

The bodies of the seven women and one man were discovered Friday on a beach in San Francisco del Mar, Oaxaca, the state’s prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Treacherous boat rides up the coast of Mexico are often used by migrants hoping to cross into the US in an attempt to bypass checkpoints on closely monitored land routes.

The Oaxaca prosecutor’s office said the migrants had traveled on a boat operated by a Mexican man, which set off Thursday from Tapachula, Chiapas state, near the Guatemala border. One Chinese man survived the trip, the statement said. It did not explain what happened to the boat’s operator.

The prosecutor’s office said it was working with federal agencies to investigate the incident and the Chinese embassy in Mexico to identify the bodies.

CNN has reached out to the Chinese embassy in Mexico for comment.

The number of Chinese migrants illegally entering the US from Mexico has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2023, more than 37,000 Chinese citizens were picked up by law enforcement crossing illegally into the US from Mexico, US government data shows – compared with an average of roughly 1,500 per year over the preceding decade.

And though still dwarfed in number by migrants from regional neighbors like Mexico, Venezuela and Guatemala, Chinese people are on track to be the fastest growing group making those crossings, according to a CNN analysis earlier this year of law enforcement data.

A dangerous but popular route

A Chinese migrant who arrived in the US via the ocean route in late 2022 told CNN that her boat almost capsized at sea after departing from Tapachula under the cover of darkness.

Iris Wang, 35, said she chose to take the boat to reach Oaxaca instead of the bus to avoid running into police on the road, without fully anticipating the danger.

“Those few hours were a nightmare that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. It was too terrifying,” she said.

Wang said she and more than three dozen migrants were crammed into a boat roughly the size of two sedans. The vessel was so crowded that they had to sit with their legs crossed and couldn’t move at all.

The boat departed after midnight and immediately ran into a fierce storm in the pitch-black ocean.

“We were all shaken with fear. The waves were so high that we were repeatedly thrust into the air, all intertwined together, before falling to hit the bottom of the boat with a loud, painful bang. If it was a little higher, we would have been knocked out of the boat,” she said.

“I kept shaking and crying, and I silently chanted in my mind: I can’t die like this.”

Looking back at the journey, Wang said she felt incredibly lucky to have survived. “I never want to see the sea at night again,” she said.

The influx of Chinese migrants spotlights the urgency many now feel to leave their homeland, even amid what Chinese leader Xi Jinping has claimed is a “national rejuvenation.”

Many Chinese who left the country point to a struggle to survive.

Three years of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions left people across China out of work – and disillusioned with the ruling Communist Party’s increasingly tight grip on all aspects of life under Xi.

And hope that business would fully rebound once restrictions ended a year ago has vanished, with China’s once envious economic growth stuttering.

Other migrants nod to restrictions on personal life in China, where Xi has overseen a sweeping crackdown on free speech, civil society and religion in the country of 1.4 billion.