By Jose Cabezas, SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, (Reuters):- Central American authorities on Thursday began trying to break up a caravan of hundreds of Hondurans who set off for the United States to escape the impact of back-to-back hurricanes, testing efforts to stem immigration from the battered region.
Honduran authorities set up checkpoints, stopping groups aiming to join the caravan and encouraging them to return home instead, including turning around a bus with about 50 people in the western department of Ocotepeque, local media said.
Guatemala’s migration authorities warned the travelers they would need negative coronavirus tests and passports to enter the country. An earlier caravan of thousands moving through Central America was broken up by Guatemalan security forces in October.
The caravan is the first since Joe Biden defeated U.S. President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
The president-elect has vowed to pursue a “humane” migration policy and promised a $4 billion plan to address underlying factors driving migration from Central America.
But the destruction caused by hurricanes Eta and Iota, which killed hundreds and displaced over half a million people across the region, may pose an early challenge for Biden’s strategy.
“We were living underneath a bridge, with houses made of plastic sheets,” caravan member Yey Rivera said by telephone.
Rivera, 24, said after the storm destroyed his home and government aid never arrived, he joined the caravan hoping to find work in the United States to send money back to his family.
“What hurt me most was leaving my mother alone under the bridge,” he said. “(But) I have to be strong to help her.”
By midday on Thursday, a small group of migrants reached the Guatemalan border town of Corinto.
“We want them to open the borders; we’re only asking to pass through,” said Luis Hernandez, a Honduran. “Because of Eta and Iota so many of us have been left with nothing.”
(Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey and Jose Cabezas in San Pedro Sula; Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Enrique Garcia in Guatemala City; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Matthew Lewis)