Migrant caravan stopped on Mexico-Guatemala border

The caravan is under international pressure to turn back as Mexico deploys police and US threatens use of military.

Hundreds of people in a caravan of migrants and refugees that crossed
from Honduras into Guatemala staged a dramatic bid to breach the Mexican
border on Friday, as local governments began preparing to disperse the
convoy under pressure from Washington.

Caravan members poured through Guatemalan border posts in the town of
Tecun Uman and onto a bridge leading to Mexico, only to be halted by
dozens of Mexican police in riot gear. Mexico's president sharply
rebuked the migrants for the border surge.

US President Donald Trump has warned the Central American caravan must
be stopped before it reaches the United States, and Honduras and
Guatemala said late on Friday they were mobilising to assist the return
of Honduran migrants to their homeland.

Some migrants violently shook fences at the border and police said a few
officers were injured in clashes. A handful of people jumped into the
Suchiate River below to swim for rafts. Others turned back towards

Carrying backpacks and small children, many bedraggled migrants simply
sat down on the bridge. Some said that they had been teargassed. As the
afternoon drew on, a tropical storm, Vicente, formed nearby off the
Pacific coast.

Jose Brian Guerrero, a 24-year-old Honduran travelling with neighbours
and his extended family, said he had joined the caravan to escape
violent street gangs, and to find work.

"There's nothing for us in our country," said Guerrero, who used to sell beans in Honduras.

On Friday evening, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said he had
spoken to his Guatemalan counterpart Jimmy Morales for clearance to
send civil protection personnel to help the Hondurans and to find
transport for those wanting to return.

"We'll continue this operation for as long as is necessary," Hernandez said in a post on Twitter.

Shortly afterwards, Guatemala's government tweeted that Hernandez would
meet Morales on Saturday in Guatemala City to implement a strategy for
returning the Honduran migrants.

Meanwhile, in a late televised address, Mexican President Enrique Pena
Nieto called the mass rush to penetrate the border "unprecedented",
accusing some migrants of attacking police.

"Mexico does not and will not allow (people) to enter its territory illegally, let alone violently," he said.

A similar caravan of Central Americans that formed in southern Mexico in
late March also drew the ire of Trump, who on Thursday threatened to
use the military and close the southern border if Mexico did not halt
the new march.

Such a move would cause chaos on the crossing, one of the world's busiest, and badly disrupt trade.

Speaking in Scottsdale, Arizona on Friday, Trump said he "appreciated very much" Mexico's efforts to stop the caravan.

"If that doesn't work out, we're calling up the military - not the
(National) Guard - we're calling up the military," he told reporters.
"They're not coming into this country."

Trump has also threatened to cut off aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El
Salvador - some of the poorest and most violent countries in the
Americas - if they fail to prevent undocumented immigrants from heading
to the US.

Their emigrants make up the bulk of people now caught trying to enter the US illegally every year.

Several migrants at the Guatemala-Mexico border spoke of entire
neighbourhoods leaving their homes to join the trek after news
circulated on social media of a call for a new "caravan" to Mexico six
months after the previous one.

UN assistance

Earlier, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and US Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo met in Mexico City and discussed the caravan, which
set off from Honduras last weekend.

"It's a challenge that Mexico is facing, and that's how I expressed it
to Secretary Pompeo," Videgaray told a joint news conference.

Pompeo said he and Videgaray spoke of the importance of stopping the caravan before it reaches the US border.

In contrast to the earlier caravan, which had advanced into Mexico
before officials began intensive efforts to process the migrants, the
Mexican government turned its attention to the new group right on its
southern border.

Mexico's government has sought assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

On Friday morning, Videgaray said the caravan had close to 4,000 people
and that the migrants could individually present their claims to enter
Mexico or seek refugee status.

"We haven't had a caravan or group of this size seeking refuge at the
same time, that's why we've sought the support of the United Nations,"
he told Mexican television.

Mexico says the migrants without a legitimate case to claim refuge in
Mexico will be returned to their countries of origin. A Mexican
official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the country had the
capacity to process around 200 people a day.

Police waiting

Hundreds of Mexican police were sent to guard the border between the
Guatemalan town of Tecun Uman and Ciudad Hidalgo in Mexico to prepare
for the migrant caravan's arrival.

Manelich Castilla, the head of Mexico's federal police, said at the
scene that his officers had restored order after the rush of migrants
towards the border, and would begin allowing people to be processed in
an orderly fashion.

Six police had been injured, Castilla said.

UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley said the agency was reinforcing capacity
in southern Mexico to offer counselling, legal assistance and
humanitarian aid to asylum seekers.

"UNHCR is concerned that the mobilization of such a large number of
people in a single group will overwhelm the capacities that exist in the
region," he told a news conference.


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