WASHINGTON (AN) — The United Nations' migration agency said on Friday it was providing humanitarian aid and arranging the safe return home of more than 140 migrants who arrived in Guatemala from Honduras while trying to reach the United States.
The latest actions by the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, also known as U.N. Migration, showcase the growing reliance on international organizations to help nations navigate the political landscapes surrounding so-called migrant caravans from Central America.
Thousands of Central American migrants hoping to settle in the United States have given up and taken free rides home under IOM-operated "Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration" programs, or AVRR, that partly deal with the fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump's anti-immigration policies.
Such programs, which receive U.S. funding, help to arrange food, medical care, housing and transportation for migrant caravans from Central America. The one that left San Pedro Sula, Honduras on January 14 reportedly grew to more than 4,000 people by the time it reached the Mexico-Guatemala border.
Mexican officials told the migrants they could not move farther into the country, NPR reported. Due to the dry season, the travelers from Honduras were able to cross a river current but were met by Mexican National Guard armed members who lined the river's banks on the other side, according to the report.
One of the migrants who requested IOM's support to return to Honduras told the agency she had learned about the caravan from a TV broadcast and decided to join the trek north towards Mexico to seek a higher salary and escape workplace sexual harassment. The organization said she decided to accept a ride home because she did not wish to expose her son, who was accompanying her, to further dangers.
As part of its support to Guatemala's government, IOM said in a statement that it sent a team to Ayutla, at the Tecun Umán border crossing, where it offered technical assistance to authorities to help identify migrants who may require aid in returning to their communities of origin in Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. According to IOM's protocol, individuals must voluntarily express a desire to return home.
'Life, integrity and dignity'
IOM officials have been working to assist Guatemalan authorities and social organizations in delivering and coordinating services such as meals, sanitary items, medical consultations, shelter and transportation for people who are stranded.
The U.N. agency's program was created to provide humanitarian aid to all migrants stranded worldwide. In Guatemala, this includes those in the caravan and others who arrived under an asylum pact between Guatemala and the United States. IOM routinely interviews migrants to identify what help they need.
The pact does not specifically mention IOM but "we are on the ground to provide a humanitarian response to those people who have arrived under this agreement," said Jorge Peraza, IOM's head of mission for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. "IOM makes sure that those who want to return to their country are not in imminent danger or face risks to their life, integrity, and dignity upon return."
Trump, whose anti-immigration policies are a central part of his administration and 2020 reelection campaign, has described the migrant caravans as an “invasion” of the United States and sought for years to construct a wall along the border with Mexico.
Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, praised the Mexican government for its efforts to halt a caravan of hundreds of migrants from traveling through the country to try to cross the U.S. border. The department was closely monitoring the caravan's movements and preparing to turn around any who reached the U.S.-Mexican border.
“The efforts by the Mexican National Guard and other officials have thus far been effective at maintaining the integrity of their border, despite outbreaks of violence and lawlessness by people who are attempting to illegally enter Mexico on their way to the United States," he said. “Being part of a large group, like a caravan, provides no special treatment or benefits to those who participate."