Tuesday, Nov 13, 2018

Northbound migrant group doubles in size, enters Guatemala as Trump threatens

Northbound migrant group doubles in size, enters Guatemala as Trump threatens
16 Oct
2018

Up to 3,000 migrants crossed from Honduras into Guatemala on Monday on a trek northward, after a standoff with police in riot gear and warnings from Washington that migrants should not try to enter the United States illegally.

The crowd more than doubled in size from Saturday, when some 1,300 people set off from northern Honduras in what has been dubbed “March of the Migrant,” an organizer said. The migrants plan to seek refugee status in Mexico or pass through to the United States.

Reuters could not independently verify the number of participants, but images showed a group carrying backpacks and clogging roads near the border, some waving the Honduran flag.

The impoverished nations of Central America, from which thousands of migrants have fled in recent years, are under mounting pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to do more to curb mass migration.

“We are seriously concerned about the caravan of migrants traveling north from Honduras, with false promises of entering the United States by those who seek to exploit their compatriots,” the U.S. Embassy in Honduras said in a statement on Sunday evening.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence last week called on presidents in the region to tackle the issue, saying Washington would be willing to help with economic development and investment in return.

Guatemala said in a statement on Sunday that it did not promote or endorse “irregular migration.”

Rows of Guatemalan police in black uniforms, some wearing helmets and shields, initially blocked migrants from reaching a customs booth. It was not clear how long the standoff lasted, but the group was ultimately able to cross, said march organizer Bartolo Fuentes, a former Honduran lawmaker.

A police official on site said all Central Americans could pass freely through the region as long as they complied with migration control.

“We’re going to drop in on Donald Trump. He has to take us in,” said Andrea Fernandez, 24, who left Honduras with a newborn baby, a 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son because she said she could not find work and feared for their safety.

Mexico’s migration institute said in a statement on Monday that march participants would need to follow immigration rules to enter the country, without specifying the criteria.

“The law does not provide for any permission to enter the country without meeting the requirements, and then go on to a third country,” the government agency said.

Meanwhile U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday to withdraw funding and aid from Honduras if it does not stop a caravan of people that is heading to the United States, in his latest effort to show his administration’s tough stance on immigration.

“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” Trump said on Twitter.

It was not clear how Honduras would be able to exercise control over people who had already left the country.

The crowd more than doubled in size from Saturday, when some 1,300 people set off from northern Honduras in what has been dubbed “March of the Migrant,” an organizer said.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said last month cuts in U.S. support for Central America would hinder efforts to stem illegal immigration as he welcomed China’s growing diplomatic presence in the region as an “opportunity.”

In an interview with Reuters, Hernandez expressed regret that prior U.S. commitments to step up investment in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador had been scaled back since Trump took office.

China is strengthening ties with Central America. In August, El Salvador broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of China, citing economic reasons and following on the heels of Panama in 2017.

Honduras is one of a dwindling number of countries that still has formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.