A dangerous new migration route is claiming lives in the Caribbean

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Katiuska Leal Moreno is seen in a park in New York City on Nov. 4, 2023. Moreno immigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela. Her mother, Santa Eluminada Moreno; sister Greoandis de Los Angeles Moreno; and 4-year-old niece Reyshell Moreno went missing after their boat departed Colombia's San Andres island on Oct. 21, 2023, bound for Nicaragua and never arrived. At least four other boats have disappeared in the past 15 months along a dangerous new migration route by sea.

Katiuska Leal Moreno’s legs trembled as she read the messages pinging on her phone.

She hadn’t heard from her mother, sister and 4-year-old niece since they boarded a boat on the Colombian island of San Andrés bound for Nicaragua on Oct. 21. They were on their way to reunite with Leal Moreno in New York City, using a new migration route to the United States sold as easier and faster than the trip overland.

The ride was supposed to take eight hours, but seven days had passed. There were 38 people on board, including 11 children.

Desperate for news, Leal Moreno, 27, posted a plea to Facebook on Oct. 27. Within hours, a stranger messaged her, said her own sisters who had been kidnapped in Mexico recognized Leal Moreno’s mother. Without verifying the information, Leal Moreno shared her phone number. Soon after, the threats came rapid-fire via WhatsApp and so did the demands: $4,500 U.S. dollars to free her family or else.

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