Travails of a migrant caravan in Mexico - GulfToday

Travails of a migrant caravan in Mexico

Migrants-MexicoCity

Migrants with strollers walk as they take part in a caravan heading to Mexico City, in Escuintla, Mexico. Reuters

Stephen Coates, Jake Kincaid, Clelia Oziel, Mark Heinrich and Sandra Maler, Reuters

About 3,000 mostly Central American migrants advanced slowly on Friday along a highway near Mexico’s border with Guatemala after some rejected overtures from immigration agents to stop, preferring instead to take their chances on the northern trek. The caravan made up of mostly of women and children arrived earlier in the day in the town of Acacoyagua, advancing 24 miles (38 km) from a previous stop in another southern Mexican hamlet, just beyond the border city of Tapachula, where the migrants began their journey.

Migrants advocate Irineo Mujica, one of the caravan’s leaders, said migrants mostly rejected the offer of so-called humanitarian visas from the agents in exchange for ending their journey. The migrants also would have had to report to government shelters and consent to be moved to other states, Mujica said.

He added that many were distrustful of the migration officials due to what he described as broken promises in the past, as well as some arrests and deportations.

The humanitarian visas would have temporarily regularized the migrants’ legal status in Mexico while granting them access to public services like healthcare, as well as the ability to work.

A press officer with the national migration institute said he could not provide any information on negotiations over the visas.

It remains unclear if the Mexican authorities will seek to break up the caravan. Previous caravans have faced off with migration agents and soldiers who have increasingly used tough tactics to stem the tide of fleeing migrants, many of whom want to escape violent gangs and grinding joblessness back home. Others are seeking asylum protections.

The Mexican government is under pressure from U.S. authorities to help reduce the flow and has deployed thousands of police and national guard soldiers to do so in recent months.

Mexico said on Thursday it would give humanitarian visas to children and pregnant women in a migrant caravan moving north from southern Mexico, adopting a softer approach to the task of containing migrant flows than at times taken recently.

Lasting a year, the visas grant migrants access to public services like healthcare, as well as the ability to work.

Thousands of migrants from Central America and the Caribbean last weekend began traveling slowly from the southern border in a bid to reach the United States or Mexico City.

According to a Reuters witness, the majority of the latest caravan members are families with young children.

A major caravan moving through Mexico last month met with often heavy-handed resistance from Mexican authorities, sparking complaints about their tactics and even condemnation from President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

As recently as Saturday, some 400 law enforcement officers in anti-riot gear tried to block the caravan’s path at a highway checkpoint in the city of Tapachula near the Guatemalan border.

One family, including small children, was knocked to the ground in the struggle.

Still, a Mexican official told Reuters authorities did not want to become embroiled in violent confrontations due to the number of children and pregnant women in the caravan.

The latest caravan comes amid record numbers of apprehensions by US Customs and Border Protection and growing criticism of US President Joe Biden from Republicans, who say he has not done enough to curb illegal immigration.

A Turkish-flagged cargo ship carrying about 400 migrants is sailing slowly off the island of Karpathos after sending out a distress signal on Friday and will dock at a Greek port to disembark the migrants, a Greek coast guard official said on Saturday.

The vessel could not sail independently and was being towed by a Greek coastguard vessel, the official said. It sent the distress signal near the island of Crete with the coast guard quoting passengers as saying it had sailed from Turkey.

“The ship is sailing very slowly off Karpathos island, carrying mostly Afghan migrants. It will dock at a Greek port which has not been decided yet,” the official told Reuters, declining to be named.

Karpathos is the second largest of the Dodecanese islands in the southeastern Aegean Sea.

On Friday Greece’s Shipping Ministry had asked Turkey to accept the vessel’s return to Turkey, a migration ministry official said. Greece’s migration minister had contacted Turkish authorities and the EU Commission to resolve the matter.

Greece is the main route into the European Union for asylum-seekers arriving from Turkey. The number of arrivals has fallen sharply since 2016 after the EU and Ankara agreed a deal to stop migrants from crossing to Greece.

Nearly 1 million people, mainly Syrian refugees, arrived in the EU in 2015 after crossing to Greek islands close to Turkey. Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, many EU states fear a replay of that crisis.

On Tuesday, four migrants, three of them children, drowned after a boat in which they and 23 others were trying to cross from Turkey to Greece sank off the island of Chios.

Greece mounted a rescue operation on Friday for a Turkish-flagged cargo ship carrying about 400 migrants after it sent out a distress signal off the island of Crete, the coast guard said.

The Greek coast guard quoted passengers as saying the vessel had sailed from Turkey, calling it “one of the largest search and rescue operations carried out in the eastern Mediterranean.”

“The ship is now sailing in international waters. Greece’s Shipping Ministry has asked Turkey to accept the vessel’s return to Turkey,” a migration ministry official said, declining to be named.

The official said Greece’s migration and asylum minister had contacted Turkish authorities and the EU Commission to resolve the matter.

Earlier, Greek authorities had said the ship was being taken to land without giving further details. The nationalities of the passengers were not immediately made public.

Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for asylum-seekers arriving from Turkey. But the number of arrivals has fallen sharply since 2016 after the EU and Ankara agreed a deal to stop migrants from crossing to Greece.

Nearly 1 million people, mainly Syrian refugees, arrived in the EU in 2015 after crossing to Greek islands close to Turkey. Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, many EU states fear a replay of that crisis.

On Tuesday, four migrants, three of them children, drowned after a boat in which they and 23 others were trying to cross from Turkey to Greece sank off the island of Chios.



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