As thousands of migrants from Central America make their way to the United States, Oxfam and its local partners are supporting some 2,500 people who are left stranded at the Guatemala-Mexico border. But why are they fleeing their countries? And why are they traveling together? Here, we answer these and other questions.
Where have the migrant caravans come from and where are they heading?
On 13 October, a group of more than 1,000 people set off from San Pedro Sula in Honduras with the intention of walking to the United States. This caravan, which is now estimated to comprise of 7,000 people, is probably the largest ever recorded. Other caravans of migrants that started in Honduras and El Salvador are currently making their way through Guatemala and Mexico.
Why have these people fled their countries and what are they asking for?
These people are fleeing widespread violence, poverty and food insecurity, problems that have been heightened by climate change. Among the migrants are whole families with small children that have left everything behind to embark on an arduous and dangerous journey to save their lives and offer their children a future free from violence and threats. Traveling in a large group is much safer than facing the dangers of the long route alone.
Karen, who has walked more than 400 miles from Honduras with her seven-year-old daughter, left her other children behind in a shelter. “Help us, we can’t go back to Honduras because we face death threats there”.
What route are they following?
The caravan started in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, then crossed Guatemala in the direction of Mexico via Tecún Umán, a Guatemalan town on the far west of the border with Mexico. Once in Mexico, the migrants make their way towards the capital. From Mexico City, there are several possible routes: A first, most popular, route would go from Mexico City to San Antonio (Texas), via the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo; The destination of a second route would be the US city of El Paso (Texas), passing through the states of Durango and Chihuahua. And the longest route would follow Mexico's Pacific coast to end in San Diego (California).
Where are they now?
More than 2,000 people are now stranded at the border between Guatemala and Mexico, in the Guatemalan municipality of Tecún Umán. They hope to cross Dr. Rodolfo Robles international bridge, which spans the Suchiate River separating Tecún Umán from Ciudad Hidalgo, in Mexico. With each passing day, more and more people are arriving in this border area from Honduras and other Central American countries, exacerbating the situation.
What conditions are they living in?
Children, adolescents and adults have been walking for over a week in the blazing sun, facing dangers, violence, hate and discrimination. They are exhausted, desperate, hungry and afraid. They are sleeping outdoors on the pavement or in parks, some in cardboard boxes, with only thin plastic sheets or bedsheets to protect themselves from the rain. Others do not even have that much. They have limited or no access to food, water and medicines.
What are the priorities in this emergency and what is Oxfam doing?
To meet the needs of this massive flow of people through Guatemala, Oxfam has organized a humanitarian response on the country’s western border with Mexico (Tecún Umán and San Marcos). Together with our partners, we have distributed 3,500 personal hygiene kits, and 560 food packages for minors. We have also installed 20 chemical toilets, as well as showers, drinking water points and 50 canopies to protect families from the burning sun. In addition, we have delivered industrial kitchens, cooking utensils, water filters and 1,000 sleeping mats to the shelters that are receiving the migrants.
In Mexico, we are working in coordination with other organizations to help migrants at specific points in Chiapas and Oaxaca. We are also preparing to offer them assistance when they arrive in Mexico City. Oxfam Mexico is working to provide drinking water, sanitation and hygiene promotion materials to people as they arrive.
Resources will also be allocated to support migrant rights organizations and shelter networks in Mexico, which have strong expertise and can provide direct care and protection to the migrants.
What do we ask of the governments of the countries on this migration route?
Oxfam calls on the governments of Guatemala, Mexico and the United States to protect the people participating in these caravans and all migrants, to respect the principles of non-refoulement, to provide protection mechanisms to those who cannot return to their country of origin because of threats to their lives and safety and to guarantee that children are not separated from their families.
We also call on the Mexican authorities to grant prima facie recognition to the caravan, in accordance with Mexican and international laws, by which refugee status is recognized without requiring persons arriving in mass influx to present their cases individually.