Honduran migrants head for Guatemala border as police wait

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SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (AP) – About 200 migrants started walking on a highway towards the border with Guatemala on Wednesday evening, two days before a migrant caravan left San Pedro Sula.

Some 75 police officers in riot gear waited at a location further off the highway on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula. An officer said the intention was to arrest migrants for violating a pandemic-related curfew, verify their documents and ensure they were not traveling with children who were not the their.

Later, the migrants stopped about two kilometers before waiting police and lay down for the night under and around a road viaduct. They planned to wait until the curfew expired at 5 a.m. before continuing.

Migrants have faced the added challenge of governments agreeing earlier this week to enforce immigration laws at their borders.

For weeks, a call for a new caravan departing on January 15 has been circulating on social networks. In previous caravans, small groups often left earlier than the main caravan. More migrants are expected to converge on San Pedro Sula on Thursday.

Ariel Villega, 35, from the town of Ocotepeque, was walking with his wife and 10-year-old son. He said they were planning to go to the Corinto border post and wait there for the rest of the caravan to arrive.

“We have everything, the passport and the COVID test,” Villega said. He said they were leaving because he couldn’t find a job. “First the pandemic and later the two (hurricanes) left us in crisis.”

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Wednesday evening declared a “state of prevention” along the country’s border with Honduras. The decree noted the threat of migrants entering without the required documents and without following pandemic-related screening at the border. Guatemala requires proof of a negative COVID-19 test. The decree provided that more than 2,000 national police and soldiers would be stationed at the border.

The Mexican government said on Wednesday that it and 10 other countries in North and Central America were concerned about the health risks of COVID-19 among migrants without proper papers.

The statement from the eleven-member Regional Conference on Migration suggests that Mexico and Central America may continue to deport migrants based on the perceived risks of the pandemic.

The group “expressed concern about the exposure of irregular migrants to situations of high risk to their health and life, mainly during the health emergency”.

On Monday, representatives from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador gathered in the Honduran town of Corinto on the border with Guatemala to discuss migration coordination.

In a joint statement, governments expressed their commitment to protect human rights, but also called for migration to be orderly and legal.

When hundreds of Hondurans tried to form a caravan last month, authorities arrested them before they even reached the Guatemalan border. Last year, other attempted caravans were dismantled by Guatemalan authorities before reaching Mexico.

The pressure to migrate is only mounting. Central America was hit by two Category 4 hurricanes in November, devastating a region already struggling with the pandemic. Storms destroyed crops, closed businesses and displaced thousands of people.

The migrants also expressed hope that they could receive a warmer welcome at the U.S. border under the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office next week.

___

Associated Press editors Sonny Figueroa in Guatemala City and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this …

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