One of the largest caravans of asylum seekers—some 4,000 to 7,000 people—are fleeing violence and poverty in Central America in an attempt to find refuge in the United States and Mexico. The majority are Hondurans, but the caravans also include Salvadorans and Guatemalans.
While the exact number within the caravans is unknown, BBC estimates the main caravan to have 5,000 people; however, the UN has previously estimated 7,200. By traveling in large groups, asylum seekers say they are helping ensure against drug traffickers, extortionists and rapists.
According to The Guardian, the first caravan started its journey on Oct. 12 in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, which was described by The Telegraph as “one of the most violent areas…in the world’s most murderous region.” Since then they have been making the approximately 1600-mile journey to the U.S. on foot and by hitching rides.
The caravan reached Mexico City on Nov. 6, where they stopped at a stadium to regroup and decide the next steps in their journey to the U.S. According to The Guardian, around 1,700 have chosen not to continue the journey and seek asylum in Mexico, while around 500 have asked to return to Honduras.
This is not the first time a caravan has headed to the United States; a caravan carried about 350 asylum seekers to the U.S. last year.
While the caravan is weeks away from reaching the U.S., President Donald Trump ordered 7,000 troops to the U.S.–Mexican border on Oct. 31 in anticipation of the caravans’ arrival. According to Politico, Trump stated Mexican forces “were unable or unwilling” to stop the caravan from entering Mexico, while also describing the caravan as an invasion and calling for lethal force if asylum seekers were seen throwing rocks.
Before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, a political ad aired claiming the caravan was filled with “dangerous illegal immigrants.” The ad was pulled by Fox News, NBC and Facebook after receiving backlash, according to Time.
While some will seek asylum in Mexico, the majority of the caravan will do so in the U.S. Though the movement has largely been described as a migrant caravan, the vast majority of people are fleeing extreme circumstances in their home countries. Seeking asylum is a form of legal protection; according to an attorney writing for The Times, “A person can apply for asylum if he or she has a reasonable fear of future persecution on account of race, religion, national origin, political opinion or membership in a social group.” This fear must continue in the event one returns to their country of origin.