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Migrant caravan of 4,000 people departs Tapachula in southern Mexico

The group is hoping to reach the US border after living for months in the state of Chiapas without access to basic necessities

Jorge Vaquero Simancas
Migrants Mexico
A caravan of migrants walks on a road in Tapachula, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, on Monday.JOSE TORRES (REUTERS)

A caravan of at least 4,000 migrants left the Bicentennial Park in Tapachula, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, on Monday, according to several NGOs. Organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) denounced in September the poor conditions in which thousands of people were living in Tapachula, a city on the border with Guatemala, where they have been waiting to regularize their status in Mexico in overcrowded offices of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid (COMAR).

The caravan began its march through the city Monday morning and took federal highway 200, which runs along the Pacific coast towards the town of Arriaga, on the border of Chiapas and the state of Oaxaca. In Arriaga, an MSF humanitarian aid base is waiting to attend to the large group of migrants. MSF’s general project coordinator, Gemma Domínguez, however, says that caravans are often broken up before they arrive. In 2021, the Mexican government deployed hundreds of agents to stop the transit of migrants.

At midday on Monday, the caravan had stopped in the small town of Álvaro Obregón, as Univisión journalist Pedro Ultreras explained in a telephone call. The town of just 6,000 inhabitants — nearly the same number as the migrants — is a three-hour walk from Tapachula. The migrants stopped in the town with the goal of resuming the march on Tuesday. Southern Chiapas has been experiencing heavy rain due to the tropical storm Pilar, which is heading into the state from the Pacific. “The migrants are in the parks, in houses, there is not much shelter if there is a storm like the ones we’ve seen recently,” said Ultreras.

The migrant caravan comes after months of tension in Tapachula. Last Monday, September 25, between 5,000 and 6,000 people crowded in front of COMAR headquarters, which had been closed for four days. A group of migrants, who had been waiting for several days for their papers, tried to force their way into the offices and the municipal police and the National Guard had to break up the protest. Some migrants complain that they have to wait months to regularize their documentation in Tapachula.

COMAR has registered a record number of applications across Mexico. A total of 112,960 applications have been received this year, a sharp rise from the 86,376 received last year until September 2022. More than 50% of these requests have been dealt with in the institution’s office in Tapachula. In that city, thousands of people have been stranded without access to health services, water and sanitation, according to MSF. Andrés Ramírez, the director of COMAR, told W Radio in May that his organizations “can do no more,” a statement he has since repeated on several occasions.

May marked the end of Title 42 in the United States. This measure was put into place during the pandemic, under the administration of Donald Trump, and allowed migrants to be turned back at the U.S.-Mexico border. When it came to an end, thousands of people from across Central America rushed to reach Mexico’s northern border with the U.S. That May, COMAR received its highest number of applications ever, receiving 14,331 people.

Migrant caravans are a form of travel that migrants use to protect themselves from the dangers of the route. The first caravans began leaving from several Central American countries in 2018, usually with the aim of reaching the U.S. border. They are also a way to pressure authorities to try to speed up bureaucratic processes and regularize their status. The last caravan in Mexico took place in April, when a group of 3,000 people left Tapachula after months of waiting for a humanitarian visa in the country.

Mexico is in the midst of an unprecedented migration crisis: this year, more people have been arrested in an irregular situation than in any other in recent memory. So far this year, the National Migration Institute has recorded 501,709 “events with irregular migrants,” a euphemism the institution uses to refer to detentions. This number is already higher than the figure recorded for all of 2022.

On October 22, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador organized a summit with the heads of state of 10 Latin American and Caribbean countries to seek structural solutions to the migration crisis. The main conclusion of the document signed by all those present was that the U.S. economic sanctions against Venezuela and Cuba are contributing to the situation. NGOs want more specific solutions, while denouncing the conditions that force migrants to leave en masse from places such as Tapachula, where basic necessities are not guaranteed.

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