Vado Hondo, Guatemala – Military and police forces in Guatemala on Monday released thousands of migrants and asylum seekers in the US from a highway after blocking their advance for two days.
“I was so scared,” Kayla, a 16-year-old transgender girl from a city in western Honduras, told Al Jazeera shortly after the eviction.
At least 8,000 Hondurans have come to Guatemala in several large caravan groups since Thursday, and around 300 Salvadorans caught up with them on Monday. Most hoped to make it to the United States, while others planned to stay in Mexico.
Honduran migrants and asylum seekers told Al Jazeera they were fleeing the devastation of two Category 4 hurricanes last November, as well as chronic unemployment and various forms of violence in their home country.
“In Honduras, people are threatening to kill us [transgender people]”Said Kayla, whose last name is not used because she is a minor.” We decided it was better to go somewhere else, “she said, hoping to make it to Mexico.
At least 8,000 Hondurans have come to Guatemala in several large caravan groups since Thursday [Luis Echeverria/Reuters]The latest of several immigrant trailers in the past three years, the Exodus comes just days before the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden.
Initially, a few large groups of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers made it to the U.S. southern border, but recent caravans have been stopped by Honduras and, more recently, Guatemala.
Guatemalan security forces stopped around 6,000 people on Saturday in Vado Hondo, about 9.7 km south of Chiquimula, a city in the southeast of the country. Most migrants and asylum seekers, including families with young children, had little water or food over the weekend.
Commercial traffic was cut along the highway that leads to two border crossings with Honduras, including El Florido, from which Hondurans drove 43 km into Guatemalan territory to Vado Hondo.
Tensions were already high on Monday when officials tried again unsuccessfully to convince the Hondurans to get on buses back to the border. An immigration officer and then a police officer warned people not to evacuate the highway.
In response, some migrants commanded three large trucks that were behind the group and moved them towards the multiple rows of police and armed forces.
“We tried to negotiate with you,” Coronel Barahona Gutierrez, an army commander from nearby Zacapa, told the crowd over a megaphone as people called back. “I’ll give you 10 minutes from now,” he said.
Some migrants and asylum seekers, especially those traveling with children, continued to withdraw from the military and police line, but most people remained seated.
Guatemalan security forces detain a Honduran migrant as they clear a street where the migrants camp after authorities halted their travel to the United States on January 18, 2021 in Vado Hondo, Guatemala.[Luis Echeverria/Reuters]The trucks were driven to the front of the crowd to cheers, where some had been holding Honduran and US flags all day. Others waved makeshift white flags.
Hondurans sang their national anthem while police and military police in riot gear stood ready to move forward. They beat batons on their shields behind the first rows of police officers in regular uniforms.
Hundreds of police and armed forces quickly pushed forward, forcing migrants and asylum seekers along the freeway and south from the freeway itself.
The security forces’ actions were part of a previous agreement between various government agencies, army spokesman Coronel Ruben Tellez told Al Jazeera. They were carried out under the laws regulating the use of force after attempted negotiations and two warnings, he said.
Hondurans participating in a new caravan of migrants slated to travel to the United States gather in front of police officers blocking the road in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, on Jan. 18, 2021. [Luis Echeverria/Reuters]A soldier and a police officer were injured by stones thrown by migrants, Tellez said.
Al Jazeera witnessed volunteer medical professionals treating a migrant with a bleeding head wound and a woman who appeared to have passed out. A small child was crying at her feet.
Military and police forces reopened the highway to traffic, forcing many people down the back road to the border between El Florido and Honduras. Many other migrants and asylum seekers dispersed to nearby areas and communities.
“Migration is a right”
Liseth Sierra arrived in Vado Hondo Monday morning after leaving Choluteca, a town in southern Honduras, on Sunday.
“Everything was calm. We thought we’d reach our destination, ”said Sierra, who wants to make it to the US, to Al Jazeera on the roadside in El Florido. “You violated our rights,” she said. “Migration is a right.”
The 30-year-old worked in a textile factory in northwest Honduras, but operations shut down shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic in March. “Everything is getting more expensive – rice, beans, electricity – and salaries don’t cover it,” Sierra said.
She returned to Choluteca but was unable to find work to support her family. Leaving her children in the care of her aunt at the ages of 6, 11, and 16, she set out to join the growing migrant caravan in Guatemala.
Honduran migrants react after Guatemalan security forces cleared the streets in Vado Hondo [Luis Echeverria/Reuters]Sierra and Kayla weren’t sure what to do on Monday afternoon. Guatemalan officials said buses would be available to people to return to Honduras and they tended to drive back.
At the time of publication, Guatemalan immigration officials had not yet disclosed how many people had been sent back to Honduras by Vado Hondo on Monday.
In the past few days, approximately 1,500 Hondurans have been expelled from Guatemala, many of whom have been captured at checkpoints across the country.
Even if she returned to Honduras, Sierra said she would try to go north again. “We haven’t lost hope and we haven’t lost faith either,” she told Al Jazeera.