Guatemala detains hundreds of US-bound migrants fleeing violence and hunger

Guatemala detains hundreds of US-bound migrants fleeing violence and hunger

17:13 - Troops detain 600 people at Honduras border as caravan of thousands heads north

Guatemalan troops have detained hundreds of migrants at the country’s border with Honduras as thousands of people, including many families with young children, continued to walk north as part of a caravan hoping to reach the US.

Six hundred migrants were detained at the border on Friday and transferred to immigration authorities on Friday, according to a military spokesman. Guatemalan authorities also returned a further 102 Honduran migrants to Honduras, after the first groups in the caravan set off from San Pedro Sula.

The Red Cross estimates that up to 4,000 people could join the caravan, as Honduras reels from violence and an economy shattered by hurricanes and coronavirus lockdowns.

“We’re suffering from hunger,” said Óscar García as he made his way toward the Guatemala border. The banana plantation worker said his home had been destroyed in November’s hurricanes, and that he was fleeing north hoping to earn enough to send money back to support his mother and his young daughter.

“It’s impossible to live in Honduras. There’s no work, there’s nothing,” he added.

The first migrant caravan of the year comes less than a week before Joe Biden takes office in the US.

While the president-elect has promised a more humane approach to migration, in a departure from Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico are coordinating their own security and public health measures aimed at curtailing irregular migration across the region.

That will probably be a relief for Biden, whose aides have privately expressed concerns about the prospect of growing numbers of migrants seeking to enter the US in the early days of his administration.

On Thursday, Guatemala cited the pandemic in order to declare emergency powers in seven border provinces migrants frequently transit through en route to Mexico. The measures limit public demonstrations and allow authorities to disperse any public meeting, group or demonstration by force.

On Friday, Mexico also deployed soldiers and riot police to its border with Guatemala.

Central America is reeling from a growing hunger crisis in the devastating fallout of the hurricanes and climate change, as well as corruption, violence and the coronavirus.