A ″migrant caravan″, which has since 12 October been making its way from Honduras to the USA, has swelled to around 7,000 people as it starts to make its way through Mexico.
The caravan is usually a yearly event, although there have been two this year. Known as Viacrucis del Migrante (“Migrant’s Way of the Cross”) the caravan has previously been organised or supported by Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People without Borders) but this one has not been directly organised by them and has had a more organic formation.
At the start, migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, who are fleeing increasing violence and political repression in central America, gathered in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and set off to walk to the USA.
On Saturday 20 October, the caravan reached the Guatemala-Mexico border, and after a series of stand-offs with Mexican border officials and riot police some people entered Mexico on a variety of legal asylum visas, temporary visit visas, or without any documentation by crossing the Suchiate River on rafts.
Some migrants were transported by Mexican officials to temporary camps near the border, others scattered.
By Sunday 21 October the caravan started to reform with migrants who had crossed the border the day before, and some who were already in Mexico and began to march north.
The caravan is only one part, and largely symbolic and political part, of the flow of migrants from central America. However many have chosen to join the caravan in order to seek protection in numbers.
Many in the caravan are women with children, and feel safer travelling in larger numbers — not only to protect themselves against violence but also in dealing with border crossings and officials on the way.
The caravan made international news after Trump issued a series of inflammatory tweets and media against it. He suggested the migrants were economic migrants from Mexico, rather than potential asylum seekers from violence in central America. He claimed migrants must first apply for asylum in Mexico (although international laws says they do not have to).
Trump has tried to whip up anti-migrant feeling against the caravan and has used it to repopularise ideas about building a wall on the Mexico-US border.
Doris Meissner, the director of the US Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, told Time magazine:
“As a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Mexico is obligated to protect people who are outside of their country and afraid to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality or membership to a particular social or political group. The United States is also a signatory.
“And while Mexico is required to offer protection for refugees under international law, migrants have no obligation to request it there. If migrants like those travelling in the caravan that began in Honduras want to seek asylum in the United States, they have the right to try″.
Despite this, many of the migrants in the caravan have applied for asylum in Mexico. Applications for asylum in Mexico have risen massively since the rise in violence in central America. In 2017 alone there were 14,596 requests, a 66% jump from the year before.
In a final act of malice, Trump threatened to cut off US aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador over the so-called ″failure″ of these countries to prevent the exodus of migrants.
Previous caravans have dwindled in numbers during the long journey through Mexico to the US border, as some opt to stay and work in Mexico and others are deported.
However this is unlikely to be either the biggest or last migration north from central America. Already on Sunday 21 October Guatemalan authorities reported that another 1,000 migrants had entered the country from Honduras.