Honduran migrants reach Guatemala on foot amid pandemic

On the morning of October 1, the Associated Press reported that around 2,000 Honduran migrants reached the Guatemala border, at the town of Cornito, on foot, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Guatemalan border serves as a checkpoint for traveling Honduran migrants, who ultimately wish to reach the United States. Migrants were able to cross the border due to their large numbers against the small force of Guatemalan police and soldiers. 

According to AP, no conflict between migrants and police was reported but there was a death reported by the Los Angeles Times of one Honuduran migrant who fell under the wheels of a flatbed trailer. The group of migrants all went through without being registered, and Guatemalan officials said that more than 3,000 Honduran migrants were able to enter Guatemala by the afternoon. As of October 1, Guatemala had 778 new COVID-19 cases and a total of 97,602 on that day. Honduras recorded 802 new COVID-19 cases and a total of 76,900 on October 1st. Honduras has a lower population than Guatemala, and its COVID trend has had a linear progression. 

Among the migrants who crossed into Guatemala, the majority were women, children, and young men. Accounts from the young men who migrated describe how the risk of traveling on foot and in caravans amid a pandemic was less grave than the risk of returning to Guatemala. Edwin Omar Molino, a 17-year-old Honduran migrant, said that, “even when you want to find a job, there aren’t any. That’s why we leave our country.”

As of April 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Honduran government officially cut down on the informal sectors and vendors of the labor force. With that cut, 70% of Hondurans were left without employment and the revenue they received from their day-to-day businesses. Unemployment and job hunting rates during the pandemic were at higher rates than ever before. 

Another reason for migration includes women and children fleeing situations where they are highly likely to face violence against them. Lea Beaudry, a UNICEF child protection specialist based in Honduras, recounts conducting a survey with UNICEF partners that found in 2017, “44% of girls and 37% of boys were victims of physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse.” As we have seen in current times of the pandemic, those percentages are likely to increase because of the high possibilities of children being quarantined with their abuser. Again, many of the Hondurans reaching Guatemala earlier this month were women and children. 

If women and children were to reach the U.S.-Mexico border, they still face issues of international border violence as they would from fleeing their home in Honduras. When reaching U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention (ICE) centers, women and children asylum seekers face multiple forms of mistreatment including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; the same forms of mistreatment they are fleeing from in Honduras. The United Nations Human Refugee Convention (UNHRC) in their “Women on the Run” report interviewed women on what they would say to governments on the treatment of women migrants. 

A Honduran woman said that: 

“The U.S. leaders should think about how they would treat their own mothers. We just want to protect our children. The gang members are forcibly recruiting the young people – especially young men. And the US Government does not understand this. This is one of the reasons I had to leave, to protect my sons.”

With Honduran children migrating across borders during the pandemic, they are now at the highest possibility of being back to the country they fled. However, being a returnee comes with more risk than was initially there because of the stigmatization of returning children and the possible contraction of COVID-19. The UN agency reported that children returnees are being blocked from entering because of virus population control. In addition to that, transit and reception centers in Honduras for these returnees have been attacked due to speculation that returnees have contracted COVID-19 during their journey.

Prior to the pandemic, in January 2020, another caravan of Honduran migrants reached Guatemala with the hopes of reaching the U.S. This caravan was ultimately broken up by Mexican guardsmen. This was only the first caravan of 2020, but there have been many previous attempts that led to the restrictions and events in 2020. The Guatemala border interaction in January did result in violence when Honduran police tear gassed migrants fleeing Honduras. This was partly due to the fact that the Honduran government believed that this group of migrants did not clear proper migration control. In the same attempt, the Trump administration reinforced the signed agreement made with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras in which migrants from those countries have to seek asylum in one of the three countries first migrated to before applying for asylum in the U.S. However, those applying for asylum still have to provide the appropriate identification in the process. 

Between October 3 and 5, after the initial caravan and border crossing, the Guatemalan government sent back around 2,000 Honduran migrants. Guatemalan President, Alejandro Glammattei, explained that the decision was based on the current COVID-19 conditions of Guatemala. However, Guatemala soon decided to lift some of their COVID restrictions, allowing Guatemalans to engage in group activities again with number restrictions on October 5th

Other Honduran migrants were able to get rides towards the capital, Guatemala City. Those heading towards the capital have the next goal of reaching Mexico and its borders. Mexican immigration forces are wanting to promote “safe, orderly and legal” migration for Honduran migrants, with its main lead on Mexico’s COVID-19 plan, Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell, agreeing in his statement of believing that Mexico is “morally, legally and politically obliged to help them (Honduran migrants).” On the other hand, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador stated that, “[2020 caravan attempt] has to do with the election in the United States,” in that caravans are formed based around elections in the US and how they can shift the election themselves. This motive can be traced back to June 2019, when the Trump Administration threatened to implement tariffs against Mexico if the country did not “control” undocumented migrants. Therefore, President Obrador, although not “having all the elements,” believes that the caravans are formed to push the agenda that Mexico cannot control undocumented migrants coming to the U.S. 

While President Trump has not issued a statement on the current Honduran caravan situation earlier this month, the U.S. embassy in Honduras did reiterate on Twitter how difficult it is to migrate into the U.S. with their strict immigration policies and regulations, along with the current pandemic. 

Recommended Reading

  • “Hundreds of Honduran migrants set out for US amid pandemic” — AP News
  • “Many in migrant caravan bused back to Honduran border” — AP News

More about women and children in Honduras and the Northern Triangle

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