Migrant caravan reforms in Mexico after thousands make desperate journey from Guatemala across river

Associated Press
Members of a migrant caravan walk through Mexico after crossing the Guatemalan border - Getty Images South America

A growing throng of Central American migrants resumed their advance toward the US border in southern Mexico on Sunday, overwhelming Mexican government attempts to stop them at the border.

Their numbers swelled to about 5,000 overnight and at first light they started walking toward the Mexican town of Tapachula, 10 abreast in a line stretching approximately a mile (1.5 kilometres).

Several hundred more already had applied for refugee status in Mexico and an estimated 1,500 were still on the Guatemalan side of the Suchiate River, hoping to enter legally.

The decision to re-form the migrant caravan capped a day in which Mexican authorities again refused mass entry to migrants on the bridge, instead accepting small groups for asylum processing and giving out 45-day visitor permits to some. 

Authorities handed out numbers for people to be processed in a strategy seen before at US border posts when dealing with large numbers of migrants.

But many became impatient and circumventing the border gate, crossing the river on rafts, by swimming or by wading in full view of the hundreds of Mexican police manning the blockade on the bridge.

Some paid locals the equivalent of $1.25 (£0.95) to ferry them across the muddy waters. They were not detained on reaching the Mexican bank.

Migrants cite widespread poverty and gang violence in Honduras as their reasons for joining the caravan. 

The caravan has triggered an increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric from Donald Trump, the US president, who has threatened to cut aid to the region, deploy the military and close the US-Mexico border if authorities do not stop the migrants.

A Honduran migrant looks over the Suchiate River that separates Mexico from Guatemala Credit: AP Photo/Oliver de Ros

At a rally on Saturday, he suggested the caravan was politically motivated. "The Democrats want caravans, they like the caravans. A lot of people say 'I wonder who started that caravan?'" he said in Elko, Nevada, where migration has become an issue in the upcoming US mid-term elections.

Nevertheless, as they passed through Mexican villages on the outskirts of Ciudad Hidalgo, the caravan drew applause and donations of food and clothing.

Maria Teresa Orellana, a resident of the neighborhood of Lorenzo handed out free sandals to the migrants as they passed. "It's solidarity," she said. "They're our brothers."

On Sunday, federal police monitored the caravan's progress from a helicopter and had a few units escorting it.

Outside Tapachula about 500 briefly gathered along the highway on buses and in patrol units, but officers said their instructions were to maintain traffic on the highway not stop the caravan.