The Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – often referred to as the Northern Triangle – have been stricken by violence and poverty since the 1980s, thanks to a slew of civil wars. Over the past few years, the situation has only worsened, forcing thousands of residents, many of them unaccompanied minors, to flee to the U.S in search of a better life. In the past, most have made the long, often treacherous, journey in small numbers to avoid getting noticed by officials and kidnappers.
However, the almost 7,000-person strong migrant caravan currently marching towards the U.S. border is relying on hypervisibility, or a disproportionate amount of attention. They hope that the large numbers will make the journey safer from human traffickers and drug lords, known to enslave asylum seekers. The bigger group also makes it harder for officials to apprehend them and send them back to their country of origin.
According to UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado, the idea of safety in large numbers is a fallacy. She says, “While those traveling with the caravan hope for safety in numbers, the perils of using irregular migration routes remain significant, especially for children. The journey is long, uncertain and full of danger, including the risk of exploitation, violence, and abuse.”
But, for those who make up the migrant caravan there is no other choice. Some are fleeing their violence-ridden towns, while others have joined the group because they are unable to feed their families on the meager incomes at home. Eduardo, a sixteen-year-old from Honduras, says, “When I saw our house burning, I knew our number had been called; our luck had run out, it was time to flee.”
The caravan began on October 12th, 2018 when 160 residents of San Pedro Sula, Honduras summoned the courage to leave what was once referred to as the “murder capital of the world” to seek refuge in Mexico or the United States. Just seventy miles, and two days later, their numbers had grown to 1,000, and by the time the group arrived at the Guatemala border on October 15, it had ballooned to almost 1,600. The Guatemalan government made a feeble attempt to close the country’s border, but after a standoff that lasted several hours the officials backed off and let the asylum seekers leave.
By the time the migrant caravan reached the Mexican border on October 19, their numbers had swelled to almost 3,000, and the group has only gotten larger since. Given that people are walking at their own pace and taking resting breaks the exact numbers are hard to come by. However, it is believed that there are now 7,000 people, many of whom are currently at a temporary shelter in Mexico City, making their way toward the U.S. border.
The journey thus far has been grueling. In addition to suffering from severe sunburn and dehydration, the group has had little access to clean water and sanitation. Two people are believed to have perished, and many more are dropping out due to exhaustion. Also, as Mercado had predicted, the large group did not deter organized crime members from kidnapping 100 people, many of them children, as the migrant caravan was moving through a desolated stretch of Mexico. Fortunately, there is a little relief now. The residents of some cities and towns have begun providing much-needed food and temporary shelters, while UNICEF and partners have stepped in with more than 20,000 liters of safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation packs, oral rehydration salts, sunscreen, and soap.
Unfortunately, the future remains uncertain even for those who make it to the U.S. border, a journey that is expected to take another month. Though there is a legal obligation to hear all asylum claims, the International Law stipulates that only those fleeing their countries due to a severe fear of persecution can be considered. This means the migrant caravan members in search of a better quality of life, even if they have been starving, are not regarded refugees. They, therefore, cannot be granted rights to enter the country. However, many are ready to take the chance. “To reach any sanctuary, you have to take risks,” says 38-year-old Jose Vega from Honduras. “My hope is someday to build a house, for my family to live in peace, to go from sandals to shoes. Not to be rich, but to be in peace.”
Resources: Vox.com, Yahoo.com, VOA news.com