Vado Hondo, Guatemala – Guatemalan military and police forces are blocking thousands of Honduran migrants and asylum seekers in hopes of reaching northern Mexico and the United States.
On Friday, thousands of Hondurans left San Pedro Sula in groups to go to the El Florido border post with Guatemala.
Between 7,000 and 8,000 people fleeing the destruction of the hurricane, unemployment and violence in Honduras have entered Guatemala so far, according to Guatemalan immigration officials.
But in a context of a strong security presence, their continuation of the journey remains precarious and uncertain.
A first group of several thousand migrants and asylum seekers walked 43 km in Guatemalan territory before soldiers and police blocking the highway stopped them. About 3,000 people who entered Guatemala on Saturday caught up on Sunday morning.
“It’s sad to see how our brotherly country treats us,” said Rafael, a single father from El Progreso, a town in northwestern Honduras, who asked that his last name not be used, said told Al Jazeera during the blockade near Vado Hondo, about six miles away. (9.7 km) south of Chiquimula, a town in southeastern Guatemala.
Hundreds of migrants managed to cross military and police lines on Saturday, but when others tried unsuccessfully to do so on Sunday morning, soldiers responded with batons and tear gas.
Migrants, soldiers and immigration officials have been injured, according to Guatemalan officials, who estimate that 6,000 migrants remain in Vado Hondo.
Guatemalan military and police forces block their advance, sometimes blocking the highway completely and at other times allowing only vehicles and Guatemalans to pass.
The mass exodus this month is the last of several migrant caravans in the past three years.
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 by Guatemala.
Some Central Americans are hoping the crackdown on migration and asylum will pick up once US President-elect Joe Biden takes office. However, many analysts in the region expect that U.S. pressure on the Mexican and Central American governments to fortify their borders and block the caravans will continue.
The Guatemalan government adopted emergency measures in seven departments on Thursday, restricting freedom of assembly and movement in response to the planned migrant caravan – the first of 2021.
The country has also deployed around 2,000 troops and police, while Mexico has sent hundreds of troops to its southern border, 432 km away.
Both governments have said they will not allow “irregular” immigration and cited public health as justification for their strong security response. Guatemala requires negative COVID-19 test results for entry.
Rafael and his 13-year-old son test negative for COVID-19. They were tested before leaving El Progreso, but they do not have a passport, which is required for the entry of minors.
“Sometimes you have to migrate to look for opportunities,” Rafael said. “Unfortunately, our country is being destroyed right now.”
Hurricanes Eta and Iota devastated Central America in November and Honduras were the hardest hit. Millions of people were affected by storms hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and homes and crops have been destroyed.
Several towns in northwestern Honduras suffered severe flooding, including El Progreso. The Rafael neighborhood is located next to the Ulua River, one of the largest in the country. “We lost our home,” he says. “The houses we have now are plastic sheeting.”
Rafael, her seven-year-old son and daughter initially stayed in a shelter. After 10 days, they went to check their house, but it was still flooded. He pulled out his cell phone to show Al Jazeera a video of his son wading up to his thighs in water between the house and the street.
The family then moved to a settlement under a bridge with other people displaced by the hurricanes. Thousands of people are still living in such encampments under bridges and along roads throughout northwestern Honduras.
“Life in Honduras is complicated,” he said, crying whenever he spoke of the girl he left with relatives because she has a health problem and could not have traveled. easily with the caravan.
Rafael worked in Honduras, earning around $ 120 a month, which was enough to feed and clothe his children when they had their own home. This was no longer the case after the hurricanes, when he would have only had about $ 20 left after paying the rent.
“There are better opportunities in Mexico,” said Rafael, who has no plans to go to the United States. He hopes to find work in Mexico to send money home for his daughter’s medical care.
‘Sometimes we eat, sometimes we don’t’
Guatemalan authorities returned around 1,000 people to Honduras. Some chose to return, while others were forced to return from border areas and checkpoints set up along highways in several parts of the country.
Marlen Munoz was arrested on Saturday during the blockade of Vado Hondo. She sat in a canopy tent that evening, watching over her sleeping children, ages 6, 14 and 15.
“Since Thursday, when we arrived at [San Pedro Sula bus station] so far I haven’t slept, ”Munoz told Al Jazeera. “The walk was difficult.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Munoz was cleaning homes and selling cosmetics to make enough to feed his family in a village about 71 km south of San Pedro Sula. But she lost all her job when the government implemented strict coronavirus lockdown measures.
“I’m a single mom,” said Munoz, who hopes to reach the United States. “Sometimes we eat and sometimes we don’t.”
When a group of Hondurans crossed military and police lines on Saturday, Munoz grabbed her children and fled the area towards the border, fearing for the safety of her children. She said she knew they could eventually be forced to return home, but decided to wait and see, keeping an eye out for the military and police presence.
“We hope they will let us through,” she said.