This may be the largest migrant caravan ever recorded in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico: its numbers are expected to swell in the coming days, and the total may reach 15,000 people, most of them women and children.
“This is the largest mass human migration I have seen in at least the past 10 years,” said Luís Villagrán, an organizer of the caravan and director of the non-profit Center for Human Dignification.
Nearly 70% of its members are women and children, from infants to people in their 70s, said Villagrán. Huddled together for protection, they aim to walk the entire length of Mexico. Most have only one pair of shoes; some, just plastic flip-flops. The road they will travel, known as the coastal route, may be difficult to overcome due to mudslides left behind by Hurricane Agatha, as well as the overbearing presence of the sun.
The largest number of migrants in the caravan come from Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua – three countries whose authoritarian rulers Joe Biden has conspicuously refused to invite to the summit. But there are also Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and even citizens of India, Bangladesh, and several African countries.
“Immigration is used as a political tool. These women and children are like coins to be exchanged. It’s very possible [Mexican President Andrés Manuel López] Obrador wants to use this caravan to look like a humanitarian before the Summit of the Americas,” Villagrán said.
But caravan members are well aware of the potential dangers they face. In recent months, Mexico’s National Guard has become increasingly violent in its response to migrants. When Villagrán led a smaller caravan in April, he was beaten and several of his teeth were cracked by National Guard troops.
In Tapachula, the National Guard is routinely used to corral, detain, and teargas unruly groups of migrants in front of the city’s INM office, where people often wait for weeks or months for the humanitarian visa needed to leave the city.
On Tuesday, thousands gathered at Tapachula’s city center to write their names on a list that Villagrán would submit to INM to secure visas for the group. At one point, an altercation broke out as migrants worried others would get to the list before them, and they would be left behind.