SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Calls for a new migrant caravan went largely unheeded Tuesday as a relatively small group departed from Honduras, a week after a raid by Mexican police resulted in hundreds of detentions and the dissolution of a previous caravan.
Conversation in online chat groups used to organize the caravans has been marked by anxiety since the raid and amid other policies in Mexico that seem designed to discourage movements of migrants en masse. Fewer than 300 people gathered at a bus station in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to leave by bus and on foot in the overnight darkness.
Caravans tend to grow as they move north and are joined by migrants already on the road, but the group was a far cry from previous caravans that began with around 1,000-2,000 people. The caravan that was broken up last week numbered around 3,000 at its peak.
Among the new group was Noemi Reyes, who left in the April 10 caravan but was detained in the southern Mexico city of Tapachula and deported.
Back in Honduras, she immediately caught a bus northward to try again to make it to the U.S.-Mexico border in search of work.
“I have no home, no money,” the mother of five said before boarding with her 4-year-old son. “I see myself as forced to leave the country.”
Mexican authorities have been manning numerous checkpoints in the south, warning truckers against transporting migrants, checking the documents of bus passengers and housing migrants in crowded detention centres with seemingly endless waits for visas.
Migrants in caravans have also been increasingly frustrated by the cold reception from townsfolk in Mexico, as opposed to last year, when villages and residents helped them out with rides, food, clothing and other supplies.
The dramatic raid April 22, in which several hundred men, women and children were hustled into police vans and taken away to detention centres, may have marked a turning point. Where Central Americans once sought safety in numbers in the caravans, which moved openly along highways, Mexico’s crackdown has led many to turn to smaller groups of perhaps a couple dozen and the risky routes of old: atop freight trains and wandering through the sweltering countryside.
Calls for a parallel caravan leaving from San Salvador, capital of neighbouring El Salvador, also fizzled.
“The (caravan) that supposedly was going to leave did not leave,” said a person identified as Jeremy in a chat group.
“I was going to go in that one (but) we were stood up. … Nobody showed up at Salvador del Mundo,” he continued, referring to the square in San Salvador where people were supposed to congregate.
The Associated Press also found no migrants in a visit to the plaza.
In San Pedro Sula, only about 200 migrants were at the bus station around midnight when they began to set out earlier than their planned 4 a.m. departure, for fear that roads could be blocked by people protesting government education and health care policies.
Mexico has issued more than 15,000 humanitarian visas to migrants in recent months, but officials say they’re now being more selective in handing them out. The country has also deported thousands; officials said those detained in last week’s raid refused to register for a regional visa that would let them stay in southern Mexico.
While the crackdown seems to be discouraging people from travelling in caravans, it’s not clear that it’s having any effect on their desire or intention to leave the Northern Triangle region comprising Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where endemic violence and poverty continue to spur migration.
Jose Adolfo Guzman, 27, his partner and her 2-year-old daughter had also left in the April 10 caravan but were detained in Huixtla, Mexico, and sent home April 24. Their neighbourhood is controlled by a violent street gang, and he met AP journalists elsewhere due to safety concerns.
He has been trying to find a job back in Honduras, but without any luck. So they plan to leave again around 15 days from now, this time without the girl.
“We will have to grab our suitcases again and chase that dream,” Guzman said. “It is crazy to be in a country where life is impossible.”
“If things keep going like this, from bad to worse, we will try as many times as it takes,” he continued. “Either they (Mexican immigration authorities) will get tired of us, or we will get tired of trying.”
Associated Press journalists Claudio Escalon in San Pedro Sula and Marcos Aleman in San Salvador, El Salvador, contributed to this report.