Migrant Caravans: Explained

Migrant Caravans: Explained

What are migrant caravans?

The term ‘migrant caravans’ emerged as a way to describe the large groups of people moving by land across international borders. Migrant caravans from Northern Central America have increased in number and frequency since 2018.

The first large migrant caravan in recent years departed from Honduras in October 2018. During the journey towards the United States-Mexico border, thousands of migrants, largely from EL Salvador and Guatemala joined the group. For the most part, these caravans tended to be organized through social media. Members of the caravan were motivated to move for a variety of factors, including violence and poverty in their countries of origin, and to seek better opportunities.

Links have also been made between the increase in migrant caravans and the effects of climate change on the region. Many people who were part of the caravans were previously engaged in activities such as agriculture, forestry, cattle raising and fishing, and thus more vulnerable to food and economic insecurity as a result of droughts associated with rising global temperatures. 

How many people are in the caravans?

Estimates of the number of migrants that comprise each caravan vary widely. It is not known exactly how many caravans have departed since October 2018. In January 2020, the first migrant caravan of the year departed from Honduras. Guatemalan authorities reported approximately 4,000 migrants entered through the Agua Caliente border crossing as part of this group.

Why do people choose to migrate in caravans?

Many people choose to migrate as part of the caravan because by migrating in groups they can be more protected against crime, receive more assistance from governmental and non-governmental organizations and pay lower costs (particularly for those who migrate irregularly, the need to pay for smugglers or coyotes is reduced).

What are the dangers of this type of migration?

The routes undertaken by migration caravans entail specific risks. Many of these risks are also faced by those who migrate irregularly in this region. A significant number of people have died while making the journey across Central America. Testimonies of migrants have described kidnappings, disappearances, physical and sexual assault, trafficking and execution.  There is also concern that international criminal groups are profiting from this migration flow through smuggling networks, through which migrants often fall victim to mass kidnappings and extortion.

How have migration policies in the region changed?

In response to the migrant caravans in 2018 and as a result of widespread public debate, the United States Government deployed 7,000 active-duty military officers to the border with Mexico. By early 2019, thousands of migrants were apprehended at the United States border, others received Mexican humanitarian visas while others were deported or chose to return to their countries of origin.

Since April 2019, the Mexican government has shifted its policy to prevent the transit of migrants through the country. When the January 2020 migrant caravan left Honduras and reached the border between Guatemala and Mexico, their request for permission to transit through Mexico to the United States border was denied by the Mexican government. Approximately 140 migrants chose to return to their communities of origin through IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return Programme and an estimated 2,000 returned to Honduras through the Guatemalan and Mexican authorities.

Regardless of the means and status (regular or irregular) of migration, a human rights-based approach must remain at the centre of migrant governance. It is fundamental that States protect all migrants from exploitation, violence, abuse and arbitrary detention, especially in situations of mass migration. It also obliges States to acknowledge and address the particularities of specific vulnerable populations, such as unaccompanied children.

Interviewing Rubén Sánchez, Director of 'Zanmi'

Interviewing Rubén Sánchez, Director of 'Zanmi'
Categoria: Communication & Migration
Autor: Laura Manzi

‘Zamni' (2018) is one of the films that participated in the 2020 edition of the Global Migration Film Festival. The short film, which was selected to be screened at regional level by the Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean, narrates the experiences and daily lives of four Haitian migrants in Chile and their integration process in the South American country.

In this interview, the young director Rubén Sánchez, tells what objectives and motivations guided him towards the creation of the short film.

Why did you choose young Haitian migrants as the protagonists of your work? Is there something in their profile that makes them different from other migrant communities in Chile?

What struck us is that the Haitian population here in Chile is the one that finds it most difficult to integrate into society. One of the main reasons is that they speak another language, the Creole language, and that is an even bigger barrier considering that Chilean Spanish has many idioms and tends to be spoken very quickly. Another obstacle to integration is the racism and rejection of some sectors of society towards the Haitian population: whether because of ethnicity, nationality, language or other prejudices. This leads to more segregation and not integration.

In the short film, there are many scenes that portray different landscapes: the sea, the forest, the city. What is the role of nature in the integration process of migrants?

Climatic conditions and landscapes can be a challenge for integration. For example, Haiti is very flat, there are no mountains and the climate is tropical. Here in Chile, nature and microclimates are quite diverse (the north has higher temperatures, the south is more humid and rainy, while the central zone is a mixture of these).
Nature, however, has also a symbolic purpose in the documentary. The mountain range, which characterizes the Chilean landscape, is the great frontier that any person faces to reach Chile. This justifies the scene that opens and closes the film and represents one of the protagonists in the Embalse del Yeso, which is a place here in Santiago, in the middle of the mountain range. We wanted to film those scenes there as a more oneiric way of representing this enormous wall that is like a border to cross in order to reach Chile, and that at the same time symbolizes the great wall that is in the cultural shock that the Haitian population faces.

‘Life is a circle. A perfect circle of which we are not a part': the protagonists in the film have jobs, go to school, learn Spanish. Then, what are the elements that continue to prevent their integration into the host community, this 'circle' from which they are excluded?

The cultural shock is big. If the host society lives this 'fear of the unknown', the Haitian migrant population in turn reacts and this generates a fear of the community where they live. The lack of integration is made difficult by prejudice and because initiatives that value cultural richness are not promoted. I think this is what we lack as a society: to be more educated. If there is no good education, there will be no people who cannot integrate; we still need to be educated and 'humanized'. I feel that in some way we are also 'dehumanized'. This is what the documentary wants to capture: to reflect on the humanity that we need, the humanity that we need to integrate others, to show that we are all really the same, we are all human beings and we all have dreams.

How much is the director visible in his work? How come are you interested in the subject of migration?

The issue of Haitian migration was, for me, a personal concern, because I live in one of the cities in Chile with the largest Haitian population. I used to witness daily this rejection of the Haitian population in the eyes of the people, in comments that were exchanged by whispering in the bus when I went to the university. I was worried about that.
Also, before I enrolled in audiovisual communication, I studied social work, and had many courses on the migration issue and related social policies. I did a lot of research on Haitian migration, which allowed me to capture the central idea of the short film. During the shooting process, I had the opportunity to meet these young people (Haitian migrants), to live their culture, to taste their food. I was filled with a culture that I didn't know, I was filled with knowledge, with a new experience. I wish this documentary could reach more people, change who we are and cultivate our humanity.