Guatemala has sent back almost 3,500 Honduran migrants from a caravan that was heading to the United States over concerns they might spread Covid-19, President Alejandro Giammattei said on Sunday.
In a televised message, Giammattei said Guatemalan security forces were able to “contain” the caravan, that according to the president was a factor in the transmission of the virus.
“We are experiencing a pandemic in Guatemala which has cost us to control with months of efforts,” said the president, adding it was an “obligation” to reduce the risk of further contagion.
According to the Guatemalan Migration Institute (IGM), the caravan entered eastern Guatemala on Thursday, pushing over a military cordon on the Corinto border before splitting into groups to reach Mexico, which has closed its borders.
In recent years, thousands of Central American migrants travelling in large groups have crossed into Mexico, with the aim of reaching the US border.
The migrants have become a hot-button issue for political conservatives in the United States, including President Donald Trump’s base.
Trump, who is seeking a second term in the November 3 election, has threatened Mexico with steep tariffs if it does not do more to stop a surge of undocumented migrants.
By Friday and Saturday, hundreds of Guatemalan police and military personnel set up roadblocks forcing migrants — including young children and people in wheelchairs — to turn back.
Fifteen people from the caravan requested refuge in Guatemala, according to the IGM.
“We respect the right to migration as long as it is regulated and the requirements and protocols that have been established are complied with, and not as happened with this group of migrants who broke into our country with violence,” Giammattei said.
Covid-19 has infected 93,963 people and killed 3,293 since March in Guatemala, a country of about 17 million inhabitants.
The country began reopening in July after four months of restrictions to curb the pandemic.