Honduran migrants in new US-bound caravan enter Guatemala


Corinto (Honduras) (AFP) - Hundreds of people in the vanguard of a new migrant caravan from Honduras forced their way across the border with Guatemala on Wednesday, intent on reaching the United States.

Thousands of Central American migrants have been braving the risk of extortion, kidnap and even murder as they flee poverty and gang violence in their homelands in a bid to reach the American dream, much to the annoyance of US President Donald Trump.

Around 400 men, women and children who set out from the northern Honduran town of San Pedro Sula on Tuesday, massed near the border town of Corinto on Wednesday.

The crowd refused to register with the migration services and forced their way through a line of border police to the Guatemalan side.

"There is no work here, the government has abandoned us," 26-year-old Honduran Antony Gomez told AFP.

Other migrants who arrived later in small groups were temporarily blocked at the border. Police allowed some of them through, though they prohibited families with small children from passing.

Hundreds later regrouped to march northwards behind a blue and white Honduran flag.

Nearly 1,000 people had assembled in San Pedro Sula the night before, a human rights activist told AFP.

"Right now we're close to 1,000 people but there are buses arriving from different parts of the country," Bartolo Fuentes, a journalist, human rights defender and former lawmaker told AFP on Tuesday night.

The government accused him of organizing the first such caravan in October 2018, a charge he denies.

The fresh caravan formed despite recent immigration agreements imposed by the Trump administration on Guatemala and El Salvador to curb northwards migration.

Under a deal with Guatemala, migrants who want to seek asylum in the United States but travel through Guatemala must first request protection in the Central American country.

The agreement designated Guatemala a "safe third country" -- allowing US authorities to deport some El Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers there -- and was condemned by international human rights groups

Many international observers say the country -- with 60 percent poverty -- is in no shape to welcome refugees but simply signed the agreement under intense US pressure.

Washington has reached a similar deal with El Salvador.

The migrants congregated in parks and the central metro station in San Pedro Sula, which is located around 180 kilometers (110 miles) north of the capital Tegucigalpa, under a light drizzle

Would-be migrants, "mostly from rural areas," according to Fuentes, were alerted to the caravan through social media messages, which were then picked up by television channels.

"Here there's no work for anyone. I was studying ... but for nothing because there are many graduates with the diploma under their arm but without finding work," Yoly Sabillon, 28, told AFP.

Before joining the caravan she left her three children aged three, seven and 13 with her mother.

More than 2,000 Hondurans took part in the original caravan which headed north through Guatemala and then Mexico.

At least three more caravans formed during the first few months of 2019, leading Trump to threaten punitive measures against Central American governments if they did not stem the tide.

Trump sent 6,00 troops to the southern border with Mexico and warned of an "invasion" of "gang members" and "criminals."

Around 30,000 Honduran migrants remain in Mexico waiting for a response to their US asylum requests.