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 distributed mattresses, water filters, hygiene materials like soap and nutrition kits. 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 some 5,000 people who are left stranded at the Guatemala-Mexico border by distributing personal hygiene kits, installing latrines and showers, and providing access to drinking water. In Mexico, we are supporting those en route through migrant rights organizations and shelter networks.

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, 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 is now estimated to comprise of 7,000 people, is probably the largest ever recorded. 
During their journey through Mexico, the caravan split up into several groups. Other caravans of migrants that started in Honduras and El Salvador are currently making their way through Guatemala and Mexico.

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

Migrants wait to cross the border from Guatemala to Mexico on the Rodolfo Robles bridge. Photo: Eva Cameros / Oxfam

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 that 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 a large group 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 the data provided by the shelters, as well as Oxfam and local partners' estimates, around 20,500 migrants crossed the Guatemala-Mexico border in Tecún Umán between October 17 and November 3.

Where is the caravan now?

Several hundred migrants are now in Tijuana, Mexico, and have joined other groups that arrived in that border city in recent days.

A large group belonging to the first migrant caravan, mostly from Honduras, is advancing through north-western Mexico towards Tijuana.

Most members of the second caravan remain in Mexico City where, according to local authorities, about 1,200 people found shelter in a sports complex in the east of the capital.

Another 2,000 migrants from a third caravan, mostly from El Salvador, are further away from the so-called "American dream" and are still advancing through the town of Veracruz, in eastern Mexico.

A fourth caravan, made up of some 1,800 Salvadorans, split up into two groups. One is traveling towards Oaxaca and the other to Veracruz.  

What conditions are they living in?

Des migrant-e-s du Honduras dorment à même le trottoir ou dans des parcs, parfois sur des cartons, avec pour toute protection de fines bâches en plastique ou des draps. Photo : Iván Aguilar/Oxfam

As days go by, more children, adolescents and adults who have been walking for weeks arrive at different locations in Mexico. They are exhausted and desperate, some of them sick, hungry and afraid. Many have suffered from theft and kidnapping attempts on the road, which exacerbate the feeling of tension and insecurity.

Some are sleeping outdoors on the pavement or in the parks, with only thin plastic sheets or bedsheets to protect themselves from the rain, while others are resting in shelters or on the buses while they are traveling. More people arrive at the different points in Mexico, and they stay to rest and eat in shelters. 

Because their children’s health is getting worse and there’s limited or no access to medicines, some families have decided to return to their place of origin. Others have decided to remain in Mexico and wait for the opportunity to reach the United States to work and send money to their family.

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 on the country’s western border with Mexico (Tecún Umán and San Marcos).

Depuis le début de l’année 2019, nous avons distribué avec nos partenaires 851 kits de compléments alimentaires destinés aux enfants de moins de cinq ans, ainsi que 4 589 bons d’alimentation et kits d’hygiène personnelle pour 2 858 personnes. Photo : Ánge

To meet the needs of this massive flow of people through Guatemala, Oxfam has organized a humanitarian response on the country’s western border with Mexico (Tecún Umán and San Marcos) to support “la Casa del Migrante”, a temporary shelter for migrants arriving in Guatemala.

Together with our partners, we have distributed 5,250 personal hygiene kits, and 560 food packages for minors. These kits contain information and contact details to report cases of violence or human trafficking. 

We have also installed 20 chemical toilets, as well as showers, drinking water points and 1,000 canopies to protect families from the burning sun. In addition, we have delivered industrial kitchens, cooking utensils, water filters, 1,600 food vouchers and sleeping mats to the different shelters receiving migrants.

We also provide protection workshops focused on preventing, identifying and reporting cases of violence and human trafficking, as well as hygiene promotion talks.  

In Mexico we are working in coordination with other organizations to help migrants at specific points in Chiapas and Oaxaca. We are also offering them assistance when they arrive in Mexico City. Oxfam Mexico is working to provide drinking water, sanitation and hygiene promotion materials to people as they arrive.

We are also allocating resources to support migrant rights organizations and shelter networks in Mexico, which have strong expertise and can provide direct care and protection to the migrants.

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 22 November 2018