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Friday 15 November 2019

Migrants' caravan stalls on way to US while tensions rise

Cleaning up: Migrants kiss while bathing in a river in Tapanatepec. Photo: REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Cleaning up: Migrants kiss while bathing in a river in Tapanatepec. Photo: REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Christopher Sherman in Mexico City

Thousands of Central American migrants took a break on their long journey through southern Mexico, but vowed to press ahead toward the US border roughly 1,600km away.

Mexican government agencies seem to waver between helping and hindering as some migrants rested in the shade of tarpaulins strung across the main square of the town of Tapanatepec.

The tensions of a long trek through searing heat with tenuous supplies of food and other goods spilled over Saturday night when a dispute over a food line evolved into the beating of a man falsely accused of child stealing.

Raul Medina Melendez, security chief for the tiny municipality of Tapanatepec in Oaxaca state said the town had been distributing sandwiches and water to migrants camped in the central square.

When a man with a megaphone asked people to wait their turn, some men hurled insults at him. "Finally, people got really angry and those below began to attack the guy," Mr Medina said.

As the man ran, a false rumour spread that he had grabbed a child for protection and he was caught and beaten. Police rescued him and took him to a hospital for treatment, though his condition wasn't immediately clear.

Yesterday, several in the caravan took to microphones to denounce the attack.

"Is that the way we're going to always behave?" a woman from Honduras asked. "Anytime there's a rumour everyone is going to run to beat up someone?"

Others complained of a few smoking marijuana or complained that images of litter and uneaten food made them appear disrespectful.

On Saturday, an arm of the federal government for the first time seemed to be directly helping the migrants advance rather than trying to diminish the caravan. Grupo Beta, Mexico's migrant protection agency, gave lifts to stragglers and passed out water.

"There are people fainting, there are wounded," said Martin Rojas, an agent of Grupo Beta, after he dropped off a group of women and children in Tapanatepec after spotting them on a highway trudging through temperatures of up to 40C.

Other agencies, however, have periodically tried to impede or erode the mass migration, whose progress has led US President Donald Trump to threaten action against Mexico.

Earlier yesterday, more than 100 federal police dressed in riot gear blocked a highway before dawn to encourage the migrants to apply for refugee status in Mexico rather than continuing the journey north.

Police let the caravan proceed after representatives from Mexico's National Human Rights Commission convinced them that a rural stretch of highway without shade, toilets or water was no place for migrants to entertain an offer of asylum.

Many members of the caravan have been travelling for more than two weeks, since a group first formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

The caravan still must travel 1,600km to reach the nearest US border crossing at McAllen, Texas. The trip could be twice as long if the 4,000 or so migrants head for the Tijuana-San Diego frontier, as another caravan did earlier this year.

Only about 200 in that group made it to the border.

Irish Independent

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