GUATEMALA CITY/TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Over 2,000 Central American migrants heading to the United States from Honduras barged past armed Guatemalan security troops at the border on Thursday, as they sought to escape poverty exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, caravan members, many wearing face masks, began gathering near the Guatemalan border at 6.30am. By mid-day more than 2,000 migrants had crossed without authorization, said Guatemalan officials, who expressed concern about contagion.
“We’re talking about a caravan in the middle of a pandemic. The situation is complicated because they broke the health protocols and we don’t know who has entered (the country),” said Guatemala’s migration director Guillermo Díaz.
One member of the caravan died on Thursday after falling from a trailer in Guatemala and getting trapped under its wheels, the Guatemalan Red Cross reported.
The caravan is the biggest since the coronavirus pandemic hit Central America in March, triggering strict government shutdowns that battered already precarious economies, leading to rises in unemployment and poverty.
It is likely to face challenges crossing through Mexico, where President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has deployed the National Guard to the border with Guatemala and dispersed previous caravans under pressure from the United States.
Republican President Donald Trump has made cracking down on unauthorized immigration a key part of his platform, ahead of the U.S. presidential election in a month’s time.
Members of the caravan said they were fleeing dire conditions in Honduras, which is experiencing the worst economic decline in its history.
“No one migrates because they want to, it’s out of necessity,” Carlos, a Honduran migrant who asked not to use his last name, told Reuters via WhatsApp after reaching Guatemala. “We don’t have any money to eat.”
Migration experts said the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing social issues in Central America.
“This new caravan is yet another effect of the pandemic, but even more than that, it’s a result of social inequalities that are on the rise,” said Misael Hernandez, a migration expert at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte.
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