Honduran migrants who have made their way through Central America were gathering at Guatemala’s northern border with Mexico on Friday, despite President Donald Trump’s threat to deploy the military to stop them entering the United States.
Various caravans of migrants have been traveling by bus or on foot from their homeland, mostly through Guatemala, in the hope of not just reaching Mexico but heading on to the United States.
“The journey has been very tough, very difficult but there’s no work in Honduras,” said 20-year-old Glenda Salvador, a mother of two toddlers and one of the multitude of Hondurans gathering in a Tecun Uman park close to the bridge crossing from Guatemala to Mexico.
On the other side of the bridge, Mexican riot police could be seen waiting.
“We’re going to wait for those still on their way but who are close by” before trying to cross, Mario Mejia, who seemed to be one of the migrants’ leaders, told AFP.
On Thursday, Trump branded the migrant caravan an “onslaught” and an “assault on our country” in a series of typically fiery tweets.
He also threatened to send in the US military to “CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!” and keep out “MANY CRIMINALS” among the migrants.
He called on Mexico to ensure the migrants do not reach the US border while threatening Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador with financial penalties.
– ‘Faith’ –
His comments came ahead of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Mexico on Friday to meet with outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, with the migrant caravan due to be on the agenda.
Migrants who have already arrived at the Mexican border have been sleeping in churches, fire stations and refugee shelters. Authorities are expecting around 3,000 to arrive in total.
Spirits are high, though. “I have faith that one way or another, I’m going to cross” the border, said Wilson Chacon, originally from Copan in the west of Honduras.
Mexican authorities are particularly wary of migrants attempting to cross the Suchiate River that forms the southwestern border with Guatemala, a popular illegal route into Mexico.
On the other side of the river in Ciudad Hidalgo, boat owners have been trying to contact Hondurans by phone to convince them to use their services to get across.
“Tell them to come to where my telephone flashlight is, hurry up as it’s quiet now,” said a man named Raul to a Honduran he knows.
Mexican authorities “are going to employ dogs, so I told him to come now,” the 25-year-old Raul told AFP.
Authorities are preparing for an influx of migrants, with local police chief Gerardo Hernandez saying that five shelters had been set up in Ciudad Hidalgo to accommodate up to 4,000 people.
However, he added that only 15 of 132 Central Americans registered in the town had come from the caravan.
But “they don’t all register here for fear of being detained,” admitted Hernandez.
– UN asylum help –
On Thursday, Mexico’s ambassador to Guatemala, Luis Manuel Lopez Moreno, met with migrants camped out on the border to try to discourage them from crossing illegally.
A federal police helicopter circled overhead while observers from the national Human Rights Commission were sent to various points along the 900-kilometer (550 miles) border.
“We are offering documented entry to those who have a passport and visa, and to those who do not, documented entry via an application for refugee status, on humanitarian grounds. We will address every case,” he said.
Mexico’s foreign minister Luis Videgaray meanwhile told reporters he had met with United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, who said the UNHCR would help the Mexican government to process asylum applications for those in the caravan.
Videgaray was also due to meet with Pompeo on Friday.
The Honduran migrant caravan was sparked by the poverty and insecurity in the Central American country, wracked by gang and drug-related violence.
With a homicide rate of 43 per 100,000 citizens, Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world.