Caravan of fear and hope

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News outlets worldwide this week have covered a ‘caravan’ of largely Honduran migrants, who left Honduras last week and are currently in southern Mexico, heading north. Recent UN estimates has put the number of migrants travelling with the caravan as 7200, which is an unprecedented size.

From my experience living in Honduras, from talking to many Hondurans and living with their families, from studying Honduras’ situation for my Masters degree, and from generally being a Central America geek who reads a lot, these are my views and answers to questions I have been asked recently.

What prompted these people to walk so far in this caravan? Why now? Why en masse?

These migrants are marching so far, in a large group, because the migration situation has got so bad that it’s much harder to migrate north any other way now, but the push factors from Honduras are increasingly dire (poverty levels, lack of jobs, crime and extortion). Before, it was easier to cross Mexico, and the US/Mexico border was manned but cross-able with a smuggler. Now, there’s many more barriers – firstly the danger of being robbed, raped and/or murdered in southern Mexico is extremely high, by cartels who seek to take advantage of the influx of migrants. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to do it alone, and smugglers now charge extortionate prices, for the increased risk, danger and having to pay off the cartels. Secondly, Trump’s policies, and pressure on Mexico to stop the flow of migrants, means Mexico has upped their security and deportations of Central Americans, the US/Mexico border is a lot harder to cross, and the consequences of getting caught are worse. Therefore, walking in a caravan, people see as a way of protecting themselves against these things (whether that’s misguided or not, that’s the idea).

Why did the migrants look so jubilant to get to the Guatemala/Mexico border?

They weren’t jubilant to get to the border, but to cross it: the Honduras/Guatemala border can be crossed relatively freely by Hondurans as there’s an agreement between the countries (although actually, the border with Guatemala was temporarily closed due to the caravan, which Hondurans saw as a violation of their right to free movement). However, it’s difficult for Hondurans to cross into Mexico as they are increasingly strict on migration and tight on their borders, especially for migrants.

Do they expect to just walk across Mexico into the US?

Yes, many of them do expect to walk across Mexico and cross into the US, because they have seen thousands and thousands of their family members, neighbours, and compatriots do just that, and many are now safely living in the US. So, from what they can see, it is a perfectly viable solution to leave their terrible situations that they are fleeing from in Honduras. Other migrants plan to seek, or have already seeked, asylum in Mexico and stay there.

Why are they marching under the Honduran flag?

Hondurans are SO proud to be Honduran. Marching with the flag is them saying: ‘We love our country, we don’t want to leave it. We’re leaving it because we are being forced to’.

Were they encouraged to do this for political reasons? Do they not understand that the situation in the US is so bad for migrants right now?

I don’t believe that the migrants generally are under any illusions. These people know the risks, dangers and political climate they face ahead. They’ve heard stories of or experienced deportation, detention, and most people know of someone who disappeared on the journey and was never heard from again. I will leave you with this: how bad must the situation be in Honduras for people to think that a 3000 mile, dangerous journey, towards an unwelcoming country, is a better option than staying where their home is? Migrating Hondurans don’t WANT to leave Honduras. They don’t have any other option.

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