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Frequently asked questions: Supporting the people of the migrant caravan

Migrant caravan
Photo: Karen Romero Siu / AFSC

In January 2020, the American Friends Service Committee launched an emergency campaign to support people traveling with migrant caravans through Central America. The groups include people of all ages, including families and children–who are escaping violence and poverty and seeking refuge in the U.S. and Mexico. 

Here’s what you need to know and how you can support our efforts: 

What is happening with the migrant caravans? 

Since October 2018, large numbers of people have been traveling north through Central America together in groups known as migrant caravans, with the hope of finding refuge in the U.S. or Mexico. The caravans provide safety in numbers as migrants make the dangerous journey in search of the safety and peace we all want to live in. 

In January, a caravan of about 4,000 people from Honduras attempted to travel through Mexico, where they were met by violent enforcement by the Mexico National Guard, including use of pepper spray and drones. Subsequently, an estimated 2,000 migrants were deported from Mexico to Honduras. Others were taken to detention centers in Mexico, where families were separated and many are now being held in inhumane conditions.

Since then, vilification of migrants and organizations that provide aid has increased. Harassment and sexual assault of migrants has been rampant. AFSC’s partners in the region have received threats telling them to stop providing services to migrants. Organizations that monitor human rights abuses have been barred from accessing detention centers in Mexico. And it seems the U.S. has pressured Mexico and Guatemala to cut funding for official human rights bodies and services.

At the same time, a new caravan has formed in El Salvador, demonstrating the resolve of those migrating and the necessity for them to move from where they are, despite the violence they may face. 

How is U.S. foreign policy affecting the migrant caravans?  

Unfortunately, the U.S. has turned its back on its moral and legal obligation to asylum seekers.

Since the first caravans sought asylum at the U.S. border in 2018, the Trump administration has enacted new policies to keep asylum seekers away. This includes strong-arming Central American countries into serving as U.S. immigration enforcement through a new “Remain in Mexico” policy and third country agreements. 

Historically, “safe third country” agreements were signed between countries that are capable of offering asylum to people in need. Under these agreements, people are required to seek protection from the first country they travel through. 

But recent agreements are instead designed to stop migrants from traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border by keeping asylum seekers in countries that do not have the resources to support them, such as Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—the very countries many are fleeing because of instability in the region. 

In effect, third country agreements have hidden the migrant caravan from U.S. audiences by pushing enforcement far beyond our border, where it receives less media attention. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents  are even operating outside the U.S.  Chad F. Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, issued the following statement:  “We have dozens of personnel on the ground in Central America assisting local immigration and security officials, which have already led to hundreds of individuals being stopped, apprehended and sent back to their home countries."

How is AFSC responding to the caravans? 

AFSC has longstanding programs in Central America, including a human rights brigade established with help from supporters like you last year. Our partnerships and connections in the region have positioned us to identify needs and promote coordinated responses. 

With your support, our program staff are preparing to:  

  • Support the delivery of food, shelter, and hygiene kits to up to 5,000 migrants. 
  • Act as human rights monitors by accompanying the caravans, coordinating efforts among partners, and documenting what we witness with the goal of preventing further abuses.
  • Advocate for policy changes to ensure family reunification; special care for vulnerable groups such as women, children, elders, and people with disabilities; access to detention facilities for human rights organizations; and the protection of the rights and dignity of all migrants.   

How can I help? 

Supporters like you who believe in treating people with compassion can help by making donations to support our efforts.

Make a gift today to help fund AFSC’s emergency response for asylum seekers!

We sometimes receive inquiries from supporters interested in traveling to areas where we are actively responding to humanitarian crises—or who would like to send supplies. While we appreciate these offers, the rapidly changing, sometimes risky conditions preclude us from accepting volunteers outside of the communities where we work. We are also not equipped to receive supplies from outside of these countries.     

Your financial support is critical to our efforts. Thank you for considering a gift to help fund our emergency response

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