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.