Migrant caravan breaks up in southern Mexico

Matías Romero (Mexico) (AFP) –


The caravan of Central American migrants whose trek across Mexico infuriated US President Donald Trump began breaking up Thursday, after abandoning its plan to travel en masse to the United States.

Starting in the early morning hours, the migrants began boarding buses or striking out on foot.

Some planned to head to the central Mexican city of Puebla, where the activists who organized the caravan have convened a legal clinic to help the Central Americans seek asylum or visas, whether in Mexico or the United States.

Others were continuing their journey on their own -- not all of them happy about it.

"They told us the caravan's stopping here. I don't have any money for transportation. If I had known, I wouldn't have come in the first place," said Sebastian Alvarez, 34, who left his native Honduras with his wife and three children to join the caravan, and now found himself walking up the road carrying their meager belongings in trash bags.

More than 1,000 migrants had been camped out since Saturday in the town of Matias Romero, in southern Mexico, after setting out on March 25 from Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala.

Their original plan to travel together to the US border triggered a furious backlash from Trump, who ordered the National Guard deployed to the border and threatened to ax what he called Mexico's "cash cow," the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The greatly reduced caravan is now planning to pause in Puebla, then continue to Mexico City for a rally and end its activities there.

"We expect around 500 or 600 people to come to Mexico City," said Irineo Mujica, head of the activist group People Without Borders (Pueblo sin Fronteras), which organized the caravan.

"Others are traveling to other places in Mexico where they know people, or up to the northern border," he said.

- Hitchhiking, train-hopping -

In Matias Romero, residents were donating canned food to migrants to take with them on their journey.

Local authorities were providing free buses to Puebla for the elderly and those traveling with small children.

Other migrants had to make their way however they could -- commercial buses, walking, hitchhiking or hopping the northbound freight train known as "The Beast," long used by migrants crossing Mexico toward the United States.

Mexican immigration authorities have been working with the migrants to regularize their status, while quietly urging the caravan to disperse.

The group is mostly from Honduras, but also includes Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans.

Most of them are fleeing the brutal gang violence that has made Central America home to some of the world's highest murder rates.

Many people in the group were traveling in families of up to 20 people.

The Mexican government is giving the migrants either 30-day temporary visas to allow them to apply for refugee status in Mexico, or 20-day transit visas to give them time to leave the country -- whether bound for home, the United States or elsewhere.

Mexico, which has bristled at Trump's reaction, said Monday it would be up to the United States to decide whether to admit such arrivals or not.

The caravan is an annual event held since 2010. Organizers say its goal is mainly to raise awareness about the plight of the thousands of migrants who cross Mexico each year -- though some participants have traveled all the way to the US border in the past.