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18 January 2021 – Guatemala

Guatemalan Security Forces Clash with a Group of Honduran Migrants, (Esteban Biba, EPA,
Guatemalan Security Forces Clash with a Group of Honduran Migrants, (Esteban Biba, EPA, "Migrant Caravan Trekking North to US Border Clashes with Guatemalan Troops," The Guardian, 17 January 2021,

In mid-January, as thousands of mostly Honduran migrants, including many children, began crossing the Guatemalan border as part of a new “caravan” seeking passage to the United States, Guatemalan security forces forcefully repelled them, leading to scenes of violence and chaos near the border. Videos posted on social media and news networks showed scuffles between migrants and soldiers and police trying to block their way using teargas, riot shields, and sticks.

Helping drive this humanitarian emergency are multiple crises that are afflicting Honduras, which has long suffered endemic poverty, widespread gang violence, lawlessness, and political turmoil. Aggravating this situation are the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and back-to-back hurricanes that struck the country last November.

According to Prensa Libre, Guatemala’s immigration chief, Guillermo Diaz, told the migrants: “You cannot and will not get through. … It is impossible for you to continue your journey. We invite you to return to your country of origin, you will not pass.” A migrant responded: “We have no work. We can’t go back. … Back home we’re dying of hunger.” Guatemalan authorities reported that on Saturday 16 January, they had deported some 1,000 members of the “caravan,” including around 200 children. Two days later, on 18 January, Guatemalan troops forcibly cleared a road of nearly 2,000 migrants, including many families with children, who had camped overnight after the clashes with security forces. Many of the migrants subsequently returned to the nearby village of Vado Hondo, apparently in search of alternative routes.

This is just the latest in a series of “caravans” that have left Central America in recent years seeking to cross Mexico en route to the United States. However, this one comes as a change of administrations in the U.S. is imminent. Migrant rights advocates have called on President-elect Joe Biden to scrap Trump’s immigration policies, including the “Quédate en México” (Remain in Mexico) programme, officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols (for more about this policy, see the 2 November 2020 United States update on this platform). Between June 2019 and August 2020, some 65,000 people were returned from the U.S. to Mexico despite the COVID-19 pandemic (see 2 November Mexico update on this platform). This programme reportedly exposed tens of thousands of asylum seekers – many of them children – to violence, abduction, and rape by sending them back across the border into dangerous cities in Mexico (Guardian 6 January 2021).

During a press conference on 18 January, Mexico’s President López Obrador said he was hopeful that Biden would carry out reforms of U.S. immigration policies, as promised in his presidential campaign, adding that his administration was “coordinating with Central American governments, current U.S. officials, and those that will be forming the new government.” López Obrador claimed that he had proposed to Biden a development program for Central America so that people would not feel compelled to emigrate and that “Biden agreed with this approach.”

Biden’s domestic policy adviser, Susan Rice, when asked about the new migrant “caravan,” said: “Migrants and asylum seekers absolutely should not believe those in the region peddling the idea that the border will suddenly be fully open to process everyone on Day 1. It will not.”