New migrant caravans form as initial groups arrive at US border

Hundreds of Salvadorans, fleeing poverty and violence, begin journey to the US-Mexico border.

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    A caravan of Salvadoran migrants sets out for the border with Guatemala [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]
    A caravan of Salvadoran migrants sets out for the border with Guatemala [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

    San Salvador, El Salvador - Ignoring the ongoing protests in Mexico against the migrants wanting to enter the United States, new caravans of Central Americans continue to head towards the US border.

    In the latest, nearly 250 Salvadorans gathered in the early morning hours on Sunday at San Salvador's Monument to Divine Savior of the World to form a caravan of Salvadoran migrants to set out to the US.

    "Poverty is a great problem here," Oscar Solis told Al Jazeera as the caravan started its journey.

    "The rich can live here, but the poor must go to other countries to find opportunity," he said. "The poor have always been marginalised here."

    Solis, a 54-year-old who worked for 35 years in construction, travelled from his hometown Ahuachapan to San Salvador and arrived at the plaza at 4:00am local time to join the caravan. He made the decision to leave the country just last week.

    Sunday's caravan is the fourth to leave El Salvador since October 28. The previous groups have greatly varied in size. They were inspired by a large exodus of Hondurans and other Central Americans who set foot for the US earlier in October.

    Thousands from that caravan, which has now been dubbed the Central American exodus, arrived in the Mexican border town of Tijuana in smaller groups last week and over the weekend.

    The Salvadorans who left on Sunday hope to follow a similar route north.  

    "This is the best option we have," Jonatan Alvarado, a 45-year-old from San Marcos, El Salvador, told Al Jazeera.

    "There is more security and more confidence than going alone," he said. "If a small group goes there are a lot of problems that can occur in route to the United States."

    This is the fourth attempt Alvarado is making to go to the US. He was part of a Salvadoran caravan that left on October 28 and was forced to return to El Salvador a few days after the group entered Mexico. He said he did not want to be detained while going through the asylum process in Mexico.

    Caravans aren't new

    Sunday's caravan is being accompanied by the United Nations' migration agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM has been dedicated to protecting the rights of migrants as they travel to the US. 

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    "Migration in caravans is not new, but recently they have emerged in greater numbers and volume," Salvador Gutierrez, the head of the IOM in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, told Al Jazeera. "This poses a major challenge for all state actors who are called to ensure the life, integrity, dignity and rights of the Salvadoran population."

    The migrants and refugees travelling on Sunday each paid the fare to travel on local buses routes to reach the border quicker than previous caravans, which had travelled largely on foot. Along the way, Salvadoran police and immigration officials stopped the buses carrying the migrants to check documents.

    Salvadoran migrants wait in a bus to leave San Salvador for the country’s border with Guatemala [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera] 

    Immigration officials warned the migrants of the dangers they may face in Mexico.

    "We cannot restrict their right to migrate, as migration is a universal right," Aquiles Magana, the executive secretary of the National Council for the Protection and Development of Migrant People, told Al Jazeera. Rather, the council worked with international non-governmental organisations to build awareness of the threats that lay ahead en route to the US and handed out maps to migrants that listed locations of the various migrant houses run by the Catholic Church along the route.

    "We are informing the people that threats are real," Magana told Al Jazeera. "Disappearance, kidnapping, and prostitution [are real threats.]"

    Magana's statement to Al Jazeera echoes President Salvador Sanchez Ceren of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN. 

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    "Migration is a human right, therefore the rights of migrants must be respected," Sanchez Ceren said during a recent visit to Cuba. "We are opposed to Donald Trump's vision and policy on migration. Salvadoran migrants are an important population; they help the United States economy. Many of them are entrepreneurs. Migration helps the development of the United States."

    Trump has used the recent caravans as a way to drum up support for his "zero tolerance" immigration policy. The administration has deployed thousands of US troops to the border and implemented asylum restrictions, which rights groups point out violate international and US laws.

    El Salvador has made attempts to lower the number of migrants seeking to leave the country through expanded social programmes, especially in healthcare and education. But 31 percent of the population continues to live in poverty, according to World Bank data from 2016.

    "Not one politician has risen up to tell us that we should not go," Solis told Al Jazeera. "I am going because I want to work. The United States is not the big thing, rather that I have work in a country that supports me, and gives me dignity in my work. Here I [do] not work anything."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News