The migrant caravan was born of calamity



Thanks in some part to the fulminations of President Trump in the lead-up to the November mid-term elections, the 'migrant caravan' that left Honduras in early October en route to the US border became a media event.

The migrant caravan crosses into Mexico (John Moore/Getty Images)By the time it had crossed borders in Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, the caravan included around 5000 people, hailing from El Salvador and Nicaragua as well as Honduras and Guatemala; and was being covered by numerous global media outlets. Trump said that they were a mass of criminals seeking to invade the US while towns and cities across southern Mexico rose to the challenge of feeding, clothing and sheltering those passing through.

But why would thousands of people leave everything behind to travel on foot for thousands of miles through sometimes dangerous and inhospitable territory, only to arrive at the border city of Tijuana where they are currently facing deep anti-migrant sentiment, indefinite waiting periods on applications to cross into North America, and have been tear-gassed by US border patrol?

The answer lies in the human calamities that currently threaten to engulf us all: climate change, wide-scale government corruption, brutal state violence, and flourishing non-state gang rule. It's currently estimated that there are 8000 waiting at the border in Tijuana; most from the caravan that caught Trump's sights in November but also including prior and subsequent arrivals.

Those who left Honduras in early October formed the bulk of the caravan, and with good reason. The Central American nation has long been considered 'the most dangerous in the world' due to the collapse of government and the rise of drug cartels and other organised crime gangs in dominating the population. Assault and murder are common and tend to occur with complete impunity, while homelessness and unemployment are rife. As The Daily Beast reported in October:

'About two thirds of the population lives in poverty and the total number increased by roughly six per cent in 2017; 80 per cent of workers earn below the minimum wage of a few hundred dollars per month. On top of this, Honduras ranks among the most violent countries on the planet. Fewer than one in ten crimes is ever solved.'

On top of this, Honduras has been severely affected by drought related to climate change. Most farmers this year were not even able to yield the usual annual harvest.


"The history and present of US intervention in this part of the Americas is thoroughly entwined with the overall crisis."


When I covered the caravan's arrival to Mexico City, Hilda, a young woman travelling with the caravan with her eight month old son, told me: 'We don't have a house to live in or land to work. This is why we migrate.' From San Pedro Sula in the north of Honduras, Hilda decided to leave when she heard there was a large mass of people intending to walk to the US; having been looking for some time for a safe way out to secure a better future for her child.

El Salvador and Guatemala are not faring any better, forming with Honduras a region dubbed the 'Northern Triangle of Violence'. The most recent data from the US Council on Foreign Relations notes that 'the number of asylum seekers worldwide originating from the Northern Triangle reached 110,000 in 2015, a five-fold increase from 2012. Unaccompanied minors accounted for much of this surge. Migrants from all three countries cite violence, forced gang recruitment, and extortion, as well as poverty and lack of opportunity, as their reasons for leaving.'

As for Nicaragua, even the US has just sanctioned the government of Daniel Ortega for undermining the country's democracy amid drastic crackdowns on public protests and well-founded accusations of corruption. To be sure, the history and present of US intervention in this part of the Americas is thoroughly entwined with the overall crisis.

Besides these logical, if heartbreaking, reasons for the migrants to leave their homes to seek a viable future northwards, there are other related reasons that are important to note. When government corruption is chronic and the streets are ruled by armed gangs, there are no collective funds for quality health care or education. Children miss days and weeks of school when it's not safe to go. Many on the caravan have not had formal education, or it was interrupted before they were able to become completely literate; moreover, access to the internet and other sources of news is patchy.

In the context of all of the above, placing one's trust in God and walking towards the illusive safety and prosperity of the US makes particular sense. Indeed, it sums up the strategy of many in the caravan. And as they have been abused, tear-gassed, and pushed from pillar to post in the border city of Tijuana, we should marvel at the continued good faith of the migrants — truly against all odds.



Ann DeslandesAnn Deslandes is an Australian freelance writer who lives in Mexico City. Tweet her at @Ann_dLandes and read her other work here.


Main image: The migrant caravan crosses into Mexico (John Moore/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Ann Deslandes, Donald Trump, migrant, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua



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Existing comments

Thanks to Ann Deslandes for showing us the desperate plight of the caravan of Central American asylum seekers who have recently marched to the Mexican-US border. Donald Trump along with his arrogant, racist and hateful supporters are threatening these people with severe laws as though they have caused the problem. Blaming the victims for problems they have caused is a hallmark of the behaviour of these people. These actions even include stopping aid to refugee orphans! How cruelly ironic is this action by a nation that boasts of having more regular churchgoers in the world as we approach the Christian festival of Christmas that promotes peace, joy, compassion etc.? It is time that Trump and his ilk were reminded of the actions that US policy makers that have contributed to the suffering of Central Americans during the past 100 years - not to mention other places around the world where US policies have wreaked death, suffering, homelessness and wanton destruction. It is also an important time to remind our leaders and their supporters who have adopted such harsh attitudes towards asylum seekers who have come to this country of their policies that have contributed to the world-wide refugee crisis. In searching the web to follow up the situation in Central America, I came upon many articles that indicate the massive US contribution to the human crisis there: intervention-central-america-a9bea9ebc148
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 04 December 2018

Anne, A terrible story of deprivation of entire peoples. As you remarked U.S policy towards Central America ( and South America) goes back to the start of last century. Powerful US business interests saw the area as ripe for exploitation but without the 'costs' of European style colonialism. The involvement of the CIA is now well documented . Now the chickens are coming home to roost - big time! Add the biggest issue of our- time man induced Climate Change and the future for central America is looking dire.
Gavin O'Brien | 04 December 2018

Meanwhile, nobody seems to be running away from Belize or Costa Rica.
roy chen yee | 05 December 2018

Long stretch to draw the current migration movements to American policies over 100 years ago. Issues are more complex than this suggests. Moreover, the current Trump policy on refugees does not reflect the broad trend of USA history, with over 3,000,000 refugees resettled since 1975 in the USA. No other country has done more for resettlement [not to be confused with hosting; the USA made them citizens. And they repaid in spades - Einstein and Henry Kissinger were refugees.] USA is over and above all other nations in support to UNHCR - its the main provider of funds. Hopefully, the Trump time will be the blip in the long term trend. Trump has decreased funding, cut numbers to 45,000 [Obama was at 85,000 per annum in 2016] terminated temporary protection status for some groups and is bringing in a third country agreement- barring migrants to apply for asylum who have crossed a safe country. Here is one example of some complexity on these issues. For every refugee resettled, either local integration in first asylum countries or resettled in second asylum countries, in what's referred to as a durable solution, eighteen return home [this gets little media attention.] Since 2002, more than 5.24 million registered Afghan refugees have returned – more than 58,000 [registered] in 2017; 700,000 [both registered and unregistered] expected this year. Is that a negative or a positive for US policy in Afghanistan?
John Kilner | 06 December 2018

The latest IPCC SR15 reports that globally droughts have not increased/intensified with any warming. It finds local drought in the Mediterranean basin might be influenced by warming. But none elsewhere, including Central America.
HH | 10 December 2018


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