More than 2,000 US-bound migrants abandon trek in Guatemala

Entre-Ríos (Guatemala) (AFP) –

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More than 2,000 migrants on Saturday abandoned their effort to reach the United States after the Guatemalan government threatened to expel them out of concern they might spread the novel coronavirus.

The group, mostly made up of Hondurans, asked local authorities to help them return home, the Guatemalan president's office told news media. An AFP journalist saw some being loaded into army trucks for the return trip.

But some small groups of migrants said they remained determined to reach the US and escape the poverty and violence in their home country.

Late Thursday, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei had ordered the Hondurans detained and sent home. However, he urged them to return voluntarily.

"Amid the current health emergency, not only did they fail to respect measures to enter the country but also health measures established to protect our citizens," he said.

Guatemalan officials said some 3,000 people originally crossed the border without submitting to a Covid-19 test, required for foreigners entering the country. Many were not wearing masks.

Giammattei said that "a massive group of Hondurans violently broke in" to the country some 310 kilometers (190 miles) northeast of Guatemala City.

The caravan split up once in Guatemala, with a larger group taking a northern route toward Mexico and the smaller one following a southwesterly route.

Mexico had deployed troops and immigration agents at border points to block the caravan.

In recent years, thousands of Central American migrants traveling in large groups have crossed into Mexico, with the aim of reaching the US border.

The caravan had been heading north just a month before the US presidential election, in which President Donald Trump -- whose hard line against migrants is a central plank of his policy platform -- is seeking a second term.

After Trump threatened Mexico with steep US tariffs if it failed to stem a surge of undocumented migrants, Mexican officials deployed some 26,000 troops to the country's borders.