Vado Hondo, Guatemala – Military and police forces in Guatemala evacuated thousands of migrants and asylum seekers to the United States on Monday after blocking their advance for two days.
“I was so scared,” Kayla, a 16-year-old transgender girl from a town in western Honduras, told Al Jazeera shortly after the eviction.
At least 8,000 Hondurans have entered Guatemala since Thursday in several large caravan groups and some 300 Salvadorans have caught up with them on Monday. Most hoped to travel to the United States, while others planned to stay in Mexico.
Honduran migrants and asylum seekers told Al Jazeera they were fleeing devastation of two Category 4s hurricanes last November, as well as chronic unemployment and various forms of violence in their country of origin.
“In Honduras, people threaten to kill us [transgender people]Said Kayla, whose last name is not used because she is underage. “We decided it was better to go somewhere else,” she said, adding that she hoped to go to Mexico.
The exodus is the last of several migrant caravans over the past three years and comes just days before the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden.
Initially, some large groups of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers made their way to the southern border of the United States, but recent caravans have been stopped by Honduras and, more recently, Guatemala.
Guatemalan security forces stopped about 6,000 people Saturday in Vado Hondo, about 9.7 km south of Chiquimula, a town in the southeast of the country. Most migrants and asylum seekers, including families with young children, had little water or food over the weekend.
Commercial traffic was stalled along the highway, which leads to two border crossings with Honduras, including El Florido, from which Hondurans entered and traveled 43 km (27 miles) through Guatemalan territory to Vado Hondo.
Tensions were already high on Monday when officials once again tried unsuccessfully to persuade Hondurans to board buses back to the border. An immigration official and then a police official warned people to clear the highway.
In response, some migrants requisitioned three large trucks stuck behind the group and moved them to multiple rows of police and military forces.
“We tried to negotiate with you,” Coronel Barahona Gutierrez, an army commander from the nearby town of Zacapa, told the crowd over a megaphone as people shouted back. “Right now, I’ll give you 10 minutes,” he said.
Some migrants and asylum seekers, especially those traveling with children, have moved away from military and police lines, but most people have stayed behind.
The trucks were driven to cheers in front of the crowds, where some had waved Honduran and American flags throughout the day. Others waved makeshift white flags.
Hondurans sang their national anthem as police and military police in riot gear prepared to advance. They beat batons on their shields behind the front lines of police officers in regular uniforms.
Hundreds of police and military forces quickly stormed in, pushing migrants and asylum seekers south along the highway and off the highway itself.
The actions of the security forces were part of a prior agreement between various government agencies, army spokesman Coronel Ruben Tellez told Al Jazeera. They were conducted in accordance with legislation regulating the use of force following attempted negotiations and two warnings, he said.
A soldier and a policeman were injured by stones thrown by migrants, Tellez said.
Al Jazeera saw volunteer medics treating a migrant with a hemorrhagic head injury and a woman who appeared to have passed out. A young child was crying at his feet.
Military and police forces reopened the highway to traffic, forcing many people to take the side road leading to El Florido’s border with Honduras. Many other migrants and asylum seekers have dispersed to neighboring areas and communities.
“Migrating is a right”
Liseth Sierra arrived in Vado Hondo on Monday morning after leaving Sunday from Choluteca, a town in southern Honduras.
“Everything was calm. We thought we were going to achieve our goal, ”Sierra, who hopes to travel to the United States, told Al Jazeera on the El Florido roadside. “They violated our rights,” she said. “Migrating is a right.”
The 30-year-old worked at a textile factory in northwestern Honduras, but his operations were shut down shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. “Everything is getting more expensive – rice, beans, electricity – and the wages don’t cover it,” Sierra said.
She returned to Choluteca but could not find a job to support her family. She left her children aged 6, 11 and 16 in the care of her aunt and left to join the growing migrant caravan in Guatemala.
Sierra and Kayla didn’t know what to do on Monday afternoon. Guatemalan officials told people that buses would be available to return to Honduras, and they were bending over to return.
At the time of publication, Guatemalan immigration officials had not yet indicated how many people had been returned to Honduras from Vado Hondo on Monday.
In recent days, around 1,500 Hondurans have been deported from Guatemala, many of whom have been arrested at checkpoints across the country.
Even if she returned to Honduras, Sierra said she would try to return north. “We haven’t lost hope and we haven’t lost faith either,” she told Al Jazeera.