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The migrant caravan: another crisis

The Central American migrant caravan has the potential to become a humanitarian crisis of Syrian proportions as the US strengthens its border presence and stiffens its asylum processes, reports Sky News.

The possibility of the migrant caravan escalating to a Europe-style migrant crisis becomes a near reality with thousands stranded in western Mexican cities like Tijuana in makeshift camps where outbreaks of disease are imminent, doctors say.

Residents of Tijuana have also engaged in protests against the migrants, with the mayor saying the city is “ill equipped” to handle the high number, and that the “backlog could take six months”.

Other residents are concerned that the caravan will result in a closing of the US border, of which they are highly dependent on for business, as the BBC mentions with Esther Monroy, 58, "Most of us in this depend on business from people coming and going across the border, if they close it, it will be [the migrants'] fault."

Migrants rest in a shelter in Mexico City

The caravan began as a group of about 160 people in Honduras on October 12 that had been planning it for over a month, but soon the news spread, and the group had grown to 1,000 by the next day. In a short time, there were more than 7,000 people walking towards the US, and President Trump informally declared a ‘national emergency’.

The president also threatened to cut aid funding to Honduras if the migrants were not stopped, and warned against the infiltration of ‘Middle Easteners’ among the Central Americans in an unsubstantiated tweet that has since been disproved. Expert officials argue that his rhetoric was purely political and fuelled by the then-approaching midterm elections.

Parallels to the Syrian and subsequently European migrant crisis were drawn as the caravan swelled into the thousands and snowballed into Mexico picking up more migrants in between. They have subsided on donated food and aid provided by a few NGO’s and charities. Sanitation has been a problem, and safety is lacking. Some migrants have died on the route, mostly by riding in large vehicles unsecured.

The European migrant crisis resulted in more than 4,500 disappearing migrants in 2016, and North American authorities are trying to avoid similar fates in the Western hemisphere, where drug cartels and underground networks have swallowed migrants in the past that have not been seen since.

Mexican authorities have responded by offering 45-day visas to some, and even work permits to others, but most migrants are set on reaching the US border and testing their luck there.

There is no international law that says a migrant must seek asylum in the first country they visit, meaning that the members of the caravan can cross through Mexico and seek asylum in the US. However, president Trump attempted to curb the asylum applications and limit them to the legal ports of entry, in a move that has been rejected by Congress.

He also said he will keep them in ‘tent cities’, prohibiting them from fully entering the country until their asylum claims have been processed, which can sometimes take years. This will subject them to an indefinite migratory status, with limited rights and even less representation.

Author: Ana Hernandez

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