Migrant caravan breaks up in southern Mexico

Central American migrants in a caravan heading north towards the US-Mexico border pack their belongings as they prepare to leave a camp in the Mexican city of Matias Romero, in the southern state of Oaxaca

Matías Romero (Mexico) (AFP) – The caravan of Central American migrants whose trek across Mexico infuriated US President Donald Trump began breaking up Thursday, after abandoning its plan to travel en masse to the United States.

Starting in the early morning hours, the migrants began boarding buses or striking out on foot.

Some planned to head to the central Mexican city of Puebla, where the activists who organized the caravan have convened a legal clinic to help the Central Americans seek asylum or visas, whether in Mexico or the United States.

Others were continuing their journey on their own.

More than 1,000 migrants had been camped out since Saturday in the town of Matias Romero, in southern Mexico, after setting out on March 25 from Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala.

Their original plan to travel together to the US border triggered a furious backlash from Trump, who ordered the National Guard deployed to the border and threatened to ax what he called Mexico’s “cash cow,” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The greatly reduced caravan was planning to pause in Puebla, then continue to Mexico City for a rally and end its activities there.

Mexican immigration authorities had been working with the migrants to regularize their status, while quietly urging the caravan to disperse.

The group is mostly made up of Hondurans, but also includes Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans. 

Most of them are fleeing the brutal gang violence that has made Central America home to some of the world’s highest murder rates.

Many people in the group were traveling in families of up to 20 people.

The Mexican government is giving the migrants either 30-day temporary visas to allow them to apply for refugee status in Mexico, or 20-day transit visas to give them time to leave the country — whether bound for home, the United States or elsewhere.

Mexico, which has bristled at Trump’s reaction, said Monday it would be up to the United States to decide whether to admit such arrivals or not.

The caravan is an annual event held since 2010. Organizers say its goal is more to raise awareness about the plight of migrants than to reach the United States — though some participants have traveled to the border in the past.