They left San Pedro Sula, in southwestern Honduras, on Friday, they managed to cross the border with Guatemala despite initial warnings from the authorities and this Saturday they were heading to southern Mexico with the purpose of reaching the United States. A new caravan of thousands of migrants divided into at least two groups – more than 6,000 people according to official estimates – left the Central American country with the hope generated by the change of Administration in Washington and a possible shift in immigration policies with the Joe Biden Government, who takes office on Wednesday. They are fleeing the violence, the misery aggravated by the devastation left by hurricanes Eta and Iota and the lack of control in the management of the coronavirus pandemic. They face uncertainty, but based on the images and accounts of humanitarian personnel deployed in the area they are determined to follow.
The caravan, which had two options to enter Guatemala, finally managed to pass through the border of El Florido, east of Guatemala City. Along the way there have been scenes of tension with the armed and security forces, who have tried to disperse the columns of migrants. For example, it occurred in the Department of Chiquimula, where the military charged against a group, although the Guatemalan Migration Institute assures that it tried to “free the route due to the high vehicular load that is registered in the place.”
But the main obstacle facing the first great migratory wave of 2021 in the next few hours is Mexico. The authorities have strengthened controls on the southern border, in the State of Chiapas and especially on the Rodolfo Robles International Bridge between Ciudad Hidalgo and Tecún Umán. The deployment, with hundreds of Army and National Guard troops, is, according to General Vicente Antonio Hernández to Efe, the usual one in these cases. On this occasion, however, the health complications derived from covid-19 are added and each migrant will be subjected to the protocols and controls of the Ministry of Health.
The authorities of all affected countries insist on respect for the human rights of migrants, who are themselves in vulnerable conditions, although some episodes of tension have already been recorded. Lorena Guzmán, Migration Coordinator of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Central America and Mexico, recalls in conversation with EL PAÍS that these people “were already in a very precarious situation before they left.” “The situation in Honduras is quite worrying due to the covid and the Eta storm,” he emphasizes. And the caravan, made up mainly of young people, but also of many families and minors, not only faces the rigors of the weather due to sudden changes in temperature. The pandemic now multiplies the risks and, although Guzmán points out that “it is positively identified that people are wearing face masks,” it is also true on their way they have limited access to hand washing and appropriate hygienic conditions.
The regional director for the Americas of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Martha Keays, described in a statement as “worrying” the potential exclusion of migrants from the plans of prevention of covid-19. And that adds to the usual dangers, lack of protection and abuse. “Many people suffer accidents and amputations, face extortion and sexual violence, or disappear and are separated from their families. Some are assassinated or die from disease or inclement weather, ”says Guzmán.
This wave of immigration also occurs at a crucial political juncture, when Democrat Joe Biden is about to take the reins of the White House and has in his hands to turn around decisions made by Donald Trump in the last four years. The outgoing president and Andrés Manuel López Obrador came to cooperate to contain the caravans and in the face of threats from the magnate, who stirred up the specter of a tariff war on exports, Mexico agreed to militarize the southern border and tighten controls on migrants who they enter from Guatemala.
In a phone conversation between López Obrador and President-elect Biden days before Christmas, both agreed to start a new path in terms of migration policy and, at least on paper, they promised to promote “cooperation between the United States and Mexico to guarantee safe and orderly migration, contain the coronavirus, boost economies of North America and secure the common border ”. This will also mean, according to both governments, “dealing with the root causes of migration in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and southern Mexico, to build a future of greater opportunity and security in the region.” Biden admitted in the final stretch of the electoral campaign that during the terms of Barack Obama, when he served as vice president, this emergency was not addressed with the urgency it deserved. Now he plans to regularize 11 million people who are in the United States without papers in the first days of his administration.