Seven key questions answered about the Central American migrant caravans and Oxfam’s response

With the support of Oxfam and our partner COCIGER, migrants in Tecún Umán are getting hot meals every day. We have also been distributing hygiene materials and nutrition kits for children aged under five. Foto: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
With the support of Oxfam and our partner COCIGER, migrants in Tecún Umán are getting hot meals every day. We have also been distributing hygiene materials and nutrition kits for children aged under five. Foto: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

As thousands of migrants from Central America make their way to the United States, Oxfam and its local partners are supporting thousands of people crossing the Guatemala-Mexico border by distributing nutrition kits for children aged under five (that include energy bars and drinks as well as oral rehydration salts), personal hygiene kits (soap, toothpaste, a blanket, diapers, sanitary towels and other items) and food vouchers in Tecún Umán shelters, in Guatemala.


Why are they fleeing their countries? And why are they traveling together? Here, we answer these and other questions.

Where have the migrant caravans come from and where are they heading?

On 13 October 2018, a group of more than 1,000 people set off from San Pedro Sula in Honduras with the intention of walking to the United States. This caravan, which was estimated to comprise some 7,000 people, is probably the largest migrant caravan ever recorded. 

This first group was later followed by several others from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

The most recent caravan of nearly 2,000 people left San Pedro Sula in Honduras on April 11, arriving at Tecún Umán in groups of 200 to 400 people.

Although most groups come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the presence of migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti has recently increased.

Why have these people fled their countries and what are they asking for?

These people are fleeing widespread violence, poverty and food insecurity: problems that have been heightened by climate change. Among the migrants are whole families with small children who have left everything behind to embark on an arduous and dangerous journey to save their lives and offer their children a future free from violence and threats. Traveling in the caravans is much safer than facing the dangers of the long route alone. 

Karen, who has walked more than 400 miles from Honduras with her seven-year-old daughter, left her other children behind in a shelter. “Help us, we can’t go back to Honduras because we face death threats there.”

How many migrants have crossed the Tecún Umán border to Mexico? 

According to data collected by Oxfam and COCIGER staff, more than 25,000 migrants crossed the Guatemala-Mexico border in Tecún Umán between January and May 2019. There are 7 more formal crossings along the international border between Guatemala and Mexico.

Olga Sanchez Cordero, Mexican Government Secretary, says more than 300,000 Central Americans entered Mexico in 2018, the majority doing so undocumented, and data indicates that 80% aim to go on to cross the border into the United States.

Where is the caravan now?

Some migrant groups are still transiting through Mexico, while others are at the southern border of the United States waiting for an opportunity to cross and apply for asylum.

Thousands of migrants have applied for asylum in Mexico, while others who successfully crossed the border into the United States, have been arrested, deported or decided to return to their countries.  

What conditions are they living in?

As days go by, more and more children, teenagers and adults who have been walking for weeks are arriving at different locations in Mexico. They are exhausted and desperate, some of them sick, hungry and afraid. Many have experienced kidnapping attempts and theft on the road, exacerbating the feelings of tension and insecurity.

Some are sleeping outdoors on the pavement or in parks, with only thin plastic sheets or bedsheets to protect them from the rain, while others are resting in shelters or on the buses as they travel. 

As their children’s health worsens and with limited or no access to medicine, some families have decided to return to where they came from. Others have decided to remain in Mexico and wait for an opportunity to reach the United States to work and send money to their families.

What are the priorities in this emergency and what is Oxfam doing?

To meet the needs of this massive flow of people through Guatemala, Oxfam has organized a humanitarian response at border points with Mexico (Tecún Umán), Honduras (Agua Caliente) and El Salvador (Pedro de Alvarado).

 

Between January and April 2019, we distributed 2,858 personal hygiene kits, and 851 food packages for children aged under five. These kits also contain information and contact details to report cases of violence or human trafficking. 

 

We are also supporting shelters in the transit area where 6,750 people have stayed overnight, distributing 4,589 meal vouchers to use in local food shelters.

We have also helped to develop safer migration routes that provide protection to migrants and we are strengthening the referral networks for violence against women and girls.

What do we ask of the governments of the countries on this migration route?

Oxfam calls on the governments of Guatemala, Mexico and the United States to protect the people participating in these caravans and all migrants, to respect the principles of non-refoulement, to provide protection mechanisms to those who cannot return to their country of origin because of threats to their lives and safety and to guarantee that children are not separated from their families. 

We also call on the Mexican authorities to grant prima facie recognition to the caravan, in accordance with Mexican and international laws, by which refugee status is recognized without requiring persons arriving in mass influx to present their cases individually.

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Updated 10 May 2019