Migrant surge into Guatemala reaches 3,500, heads for Mexico

Migrant surge into Guatemala reaches 3,500, heads for Mexico
By Sofia Menchu and Drazen Jorgic

GUATEMALA CITY/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – More than 3,500 Central Americans had poured into Guatemala by Friday in U.S.-bound gatherings known as caravans, officials said, posing a headache for the leaders of Guatemala and Mexico amid fierce U.S. pressure to curb migration.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged the region to prevent such groups of migrants reaching Mexico’s border with the United States, and the latest exodus from Honduras that began on Wednesday has been accompanied by U.S. border agents.

The migrants, some travelling in groups as small as a dozen people while others formed caravans of more than 100, said they planned to unite at the Guatemalan border city of Tecun Uman before crossing together into Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said his government was monitoring the situation as the migrants approached, saying there were 4,000 jobs available on the southern border, as well as shelters and medical help.

“We are keeping an eye on everything,” Lopez Obrador said during a regular press conference.

Lopez Obrador did not say if Mexico would seek to keep the migrants in the southern part of the country. Most Central Americans who leave their countries escaping poverty and violence are eager to make their way towards the United States.

Under U.S. pressure, Mexican security forces have increasingly broken up large groups as they head north.

On Wednesday, Guatemala’s new President Alejandro Giammattei suggested Mexico would prevent any caravans from reaching the United States.

About a thousand migrants entered Guatemala on Thursday, with local officials busing some of the migrants back to the Honduran border to fill out official paperwork, said Alejandra Mena, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s migration institute.

“We haven’t returned people from Guatemala and we have a total of about 3,543 people who have so far crossed the border,” Mena said.

At least 600 Honduran migrants spent the night under tents in a shelter in Guatemala City on Thursday night, sleeping on mattresses.

“Now we have more experience, and we know how to treat them,” said Father Mauro Verzeletti, director of the Migrant House shelter in Guatemala City.

Guatemala’s former President Jimmy Morales agreed last July with the U.S. government to implement measures aimed at reducing the number of asylum claims made in the United States by migrants fleeing Honduras and El Salvador, averting Trump’s threat of economic sanctions.

New leader Giammattei said a top priority would be reviewing the text of migration agreements made with the United States.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City and Drazen Jorgic in Mexico City; Editing by Dave Graham and Frances Kerry)

Over 1,000 migrants enter Guatemala, caravan heads toward Mexico

By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – At least 1,300 people have entered Guatemala in a new U.S.-bound caravan from Honduras, authorities said on Thursday, putting pressure on the region to satisfy Trump administration demands to contain northbound illegal immigration.

Mexico’s government is bracing for the arrival of hundreds of Central Americans on its southern border in coming days, an event likely to be closely monitored by the U.S. government, which has made curbing illegal immigration a priority.

Arriving in Guatemala chiefly via crossings on its northern border with Honduras, around 1,350 migrants had been registered entering legally by late morning, said Alejandra Mena, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s National Migration Institute.

U.S. President Donald Trump has put Mexico and Central American nations under pressure to accept a series of migration agreements that aim to shift the burden of dealing with asylum-seekers on to them, and away from the United States.

The bulk of migrants caught on the U.S. border with Mexico depart from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador seeking to escape chronic poverty or gang violence.

Unlike Guatemala, Mexico has refused to become a so-called safe third country obliging it to accept asylum claims from migrants that set foot on its soil. Still, Trump has threatened trade sanctions if it does not contain the flow of people.

Guatemala’s new president, Alejandro Giammattei, said on Wednesday that Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard had told him Mexico would not allow the new caravan to pass.

Mexico’s foreign ministry has not responded directly to that assertion. However, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez said the border would be policed and that the Mexican government would not be issuing any visas of safe conduct to the migrants.

“That’s very clear,” she told reporters.

According to communications shared by some of the migrants on messaging service WhatsApp, some of the Hondurans said that they planned to meet in the town of Santa Elena in northern Guatemala and head for the Mexican border on Saturday.

Under a freedom of movement accord between northern Central American countries, Giammattei said he would let the caravan enter Guatemala provided people had the necessary paperwork.

Some migrants were turned back at the Guatemalan border on Wednesday and Honduran police fired tear gas on others who tried to cross without going through migration checks.

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City and Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by David Gregorio)

Erdogan says up to 250,000 Syrians flee toward Turkey as crisis worsens

ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday up to 250,000 migrants were fleeing toward Turkey from Syria’s northwest Idlib region after weeks of renewed bombardment by Russian and Syrian government forces.

Turkey already hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population in the world, and Erdogan said it was taking steps with some difficulty to prevent another wave from crossing its border.

With winter worsening an escalating crisis, the United Nations has said some 284,000 people had fled their homes as of Monday. Up to 3 million people live in Idlib, the last rebel-held swathe of territory after Syria’s nearly nine year civil war.

“Right now, 200,000 to 250,000 migrants are moving toward our borders,” Erdogan told a conference in Ankara. “We are trying to prevent them with some measures, but it’s not easy. It’s difficult, they are humans too.”

Towns and villages have been pounded by Russian jets and Syrian artillery since a renewed government assault last month, despite a deal agreed last September by the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran to ease tensions.

At least eight people, including five children, were killed on Wednesday in on Idlib town when the Syrian army launched missiles that struck a shelter for displaced families, witnesses and residents said.

In a report, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the city of Maarat al-Numan and the surrounding countryside “are reportedly almost empty.”

“Displacement during winter is further exacerbating the vulnerability of those affected. Many who fled are in urgent need of humanitarian support, particularly shelter, food, health, non-food and winterization assistance,” the OCHA said.

It said those displaced in December were fleeing toward Turkey, other parts of northern Idlib or toward other areas in northern Syria such as Afrin and al-Bab that Turkey seized in previous cross-border military operations.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has vowed to recapture Idlib. Turkey has for years backed Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad.

Erdogan said last month his country could not handle a fresh wave of migrants from Syria, warning Europe that it will feel the impact of such an influx if the bombing is not stopped.

Moscow and Damascus both deny allegations of indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and say they are fighting al Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants. However, their advances also pile pressure on Turkey, which has 12 military posts in the area.

On Tuesday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said it was out of the question for Turkey to evacuate its observation posts in Idlib.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Daren Butler and Jonathan Spicer)

Rising homelessness to ageing population: Five challenges facing cities in 2020

By Zoe Tabary

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The world is seeing the biggest wave of urban growth in history with the United Nations expecting almost 70% of people globally to be living in urban areas by 2050, up from 56% today.

The shift is creating significant challenges for cities around the world, from tackling worsening air pollution in New Delhi to keeping women safe on public transport in Harare.

Here are five modern-day pressures cities will face in 2020:

1. HOMELESSNESS IN LONDON – From London to San Francisco, rising rents and a shortage of affordable housing have fuelled the number of homeless people living on city streets.

In London alone, rough sleeping rose by 18% over the last year, hitting a decade high of 8,855 people – the majority of whom were new to bedding down in parks or doorways, according to official data released in June.

The government has pledged to deliver an additional 250,000 affordable homes by March 2022, while in December a global charity appeal saw more than 2,000 people sleep out on London’s iconic Trafalgar square to raise awareness of the problem.

2. SINGAPORE’S AGEING POPULATION – As people live longer, the World Health Organization predicts that one in five – 2 billion people – will be aged 60 or older by 2050, double that of 2015.

Singapore, the world’s second-fastest ageing society after South Korea, according to the United Nations (U.N.), is being seen as a test case on how to help greying citizens live well.

Through better urban design and friendlier public spaces – like allotment garden schemes – it aims to rekindle a sense of community and boost mental health.

3. WOMEN’S SAFETY ON TRANSPORT IN HARARE – Across Zimbabwe, rapid population growth has led to rising demand for public transport but that has come at the cost of women increasingly being harassed on buses and unlicensed taxis, according to police officials.

Many women do not report such incidents for fear of not being taken seriously, campaigners say.

A 2018 Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of 1,000 women in five of the world’s biggest commuter cities – London, New York, Mexico City, Tokyo and Cairo – found 52% cited safety as their top concern while using transport.

In other African cities like Nairobi, women are setting up female taxi companies to ferry women safely around the city and avoid harassment on others forms of transport.

4. AIR POLLUTION IN NEW DELHI – New Delhi and other nearby cities in north India have been struggling with some of the worst air pollution levels on earth, prompting local governments to shut schools and declare health emergencies in November.

Emissions from power plants are one of the biggest causes of the chronic smog now seen in New Delhi and some other Indian cities.

Last month India’s federal pollution regulator warned local coal-fired plants that they could be shut down for failing to comply with deadlines to meet emissions standards.

5. FLOODING IN NEW ORLEANS – By 2050, more than 570 low-lying coastal cities will face projected sea level rises of at least 0.5 metres which could put over 800 million people at risk from storm surges and other impacts, the C40 Cities network estimates.

For example, the Louisiana city of New Orleans loses the equivalent of a football field to rising sea level every 100 minutes, according to its mayor LaToya Cantrell.

A project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Wetlands aims to build up buffers such as wetlands near the city, to reduce the energy and surges of powerful storms like Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the area in 2005.

(Writing by Zoe Tabary @zoetabary, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; lease credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

This caravan of migrants headed south to Mexico – for Christmas

This caravan of migrants headed south to Mexico – for Christmas
By Daniel Becerril

JALPAN DE SERRA, Mexico (Reuters) – Poor Central American migrants who form caravans to fend off predatory gangs as they cross Mexico’s interior en route to the United States have made global headlines and drawn the ire of President Donald Trump.

But last week in the Texan border city of Laredo a caravan of about 1,500 families made up of Mexican migrants and Americans of Mexican origin set out in the opposite direction – for their Christmas holidays.

Driving large cars laden with clothes, perfumes and other Christmas presents, the Mexicans, all with U.S. legal status, bore scant resemblance to the Central American migrants trudging north on foot, except for their shared fear of criminal gangs.

“There’s a lot of extortion, corruption, many people have been attacked,” said Jesus Mendoza, a 35-year-old painter who obtained U.S. legal residency in August and returned to Mexico for the first time this year since 2001.

About half of the 12 million Mexicans living in the United States have legal residency, and Mexico’s Senate expected more than 3 million to return home this year.

But doing so by car poses a challenge as Mexico’s northern border regions have been racked by a tide of drug-fueled violence that led to a record 29,000 murders last year.

With three young children and a wife he met on Facebook, Mendoza was going back to a Mexico different to the one he left behind as a teenager before the country embarked on a so-called war on drugs in 2006 and violence spiraled.

“It’s a sad thing that some don’t want … to visit with their family because of the situation,” he told Reuters in Jalpan de Serra in central Mexico after arriving there on Dec. 16.

Trump has called migrant caravans bound for the United States “invasions” and has threatened to close the U.S. border with Mexico.

Mendoza’s caravan of hundreds of cars set off around 5 a.m. local time from a Walmart car park in Laredo, reaching its final stop in Jalpan some 14 hours later, shortly after dusk.

Such car caravans moving south into Mexico have been rare over the past decade. But those who reached their family homes say safety in numbers is vital.

“It’s sad that when I enter Mexico I don’t feel safe,” said Mariela Ramirez Palacios, a Mexico-born resident of Oklahoma. “The caravan is safe.”

(Reporting by Daniel Becerril; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Leslie Adler)

U.S. asylum seekers sent to Guatemala preferring to return to home countries

U.S. asylum seekers sent to Guatemala preferring to return to home countries
By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – U.S. asylum seekers sent to Guatemala under a new Trump administration program have mostly preferred to return to their country of origin instead of staying in the Central American nation, Guatemala’s Interior Minister said on Thursday.

The new effort began after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump brokered an agreement with the Guatemalan government in July. The deal will allow U.S. immigration officials to force migrants requesting asylum at the U.S.-Mexican border to apply for asylum in Guatemala first.

The program initially will be applied at a U.S. Border Patrol station in El Paso, Texas. The first phase will target adults from Honduras and El Salvador.

Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart said that a total of 24 people have been sent to Guatemala under the program.

Of those “only two have requested asylum (in Guatemala),” Degenhart said during a visit by Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

While the asylum agreement with Guatemala will start slowly, the Trump administration intends to make few exceptions. Federal immigration officials have been instructed not to apply the program to unaccompanied children, migrants with valid U.S. travel documents, or cases of public interest, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials and documents.

“For those in the region who may be weighing the option of taking the dangerous journey north, I’d strongly urge you against it,” said Wolf, in prepared remarks. “Simply requesting asylum at the Southwest border no longer guarantees release into the interior like it once did. We have ended catch and release,” Wolf added.

(Reporting by Sofia Menhu; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Sandra Maler)

‘People are not animals’; stranded migrants freeze in Bosnian fores

‘People are not animals’; stranded migrants freeze in Bosnian forest
By Dado Ruvic

VUCJAK, Bosnia (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants and refugees stuck in a makeshift camp in a Bosnian forest are struggling to survive in subzero temperatures as snow weighs down on their tents, spurring fears that some may die unless they are resettled soon.

A senior human rights envoy who visited the camp on Tuesday demanded its immediate closure, though a Bosnian government minister said it could take up to a month to move the refugees to a more secure location.

“People are people, not animals,” said Mauloddin, 24, an Afghan who set off for Europe 3-1/2 years ago. “You see, … it’s very cold weather, (there is) no sleeping, no food.”

Mauloddin is among some 600 migrants from the Middle East and Asia stuck in the camp at Vucjak, a former landfill site about 8 km (5 miles) from the Croatian border, because Bosnian authorities cannot agree on where to settle them.

Bosnia is struggling to deal with an upsurge in migrant numbers since Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia closed their borders against undocumented immigration. The migrants hope to get to wealthy western Europe and find work there.

Some lacked warm clothes and were wrapped in blankets, some traipsed through the snow and mud in flip-flops to collect firewood. One man brushed snow from the roof of his tent to prevent it collapsing.

“Vucjak must be shut down today,” said Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe. “Otherwise the people here will start dying.”

Mijatovic added that as a Bosnian citizen whose country generated its own stream of refugees during the wars that tore apart Yugoslavia in the 1990s she was “ashamed” of the conditions in the camp, saying they were “not for human beings”.

Aid agencies have long urged the authorities to close the camp, which lacks running water and electricity. The forest is strewn with landmines left over from the wars of the 1990s. [L8N27G8O3]

“THEY STRIKE US, THEY HIT US”

Security Minister Dragan Mektic said on Tuesday the migrants would be moved to a location near the capital Sarajevo in the next month.

Until then, said Selam Midzic, head of the Red Cross from the nearby town of Bihac, the migrants will have to endure the freezing cold and many will fall sick. The Red Cross is the only organization providing food and medicines to the migrants.

Commenting on their plight, Rezwanullay Niazy, a 24-year-old Afghan, said: “We spent all our money… We came close to Europe, and now they closed the Croatian and Slovenian borders. When we go there they strike us, they hit us.”

Human rights groups have accused Croatian police of using violence to push the migrants back over the border into Bosnia, a charge denied by Croatian authorities.

“They (the Europeans) really don’t want refugees to come to their countries,” said Niazy.

(Reporting by Dado Ruvic and Reuters TV, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Some migrants waiting in Mexico for U.S. court hearings caught crossing illegally

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Roughly one in 10 migrants pushed back to Mexico to await U.S. court hearings under a Trump administration program have been caught crossing the border again, a top border official said on Thursday.

Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said during a White House briefing that migrants returned to Mexico under a program known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) have a 9% recidivism rate. Many of those migrants intend to seek asylum in the United States.

“Unfortunately, some of the individuals in the MPP program are actually going outside the shelter environment,” Morgan said. “They’re re-engaging with the cartels because they’re tired of waiting. And that’s when we’re hearing that some of that further abuse and exploitation is happening.”

Morgan said that around 50,000 people have been returned to Mexico under the program. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for more details on his comments.

The administration of Republican President Donald Trump launched the MPP program in January as part of a strategy to deter mostly Central American families from trekking to the U.S. border to seek asylum. Trump officials have argued the bulk of such claims for protection lack merit and that migrants are motivated by economic concerns.

Immigration advocates say asylum seekers sent to wait in Mexican border towns, for the weeks or months it takes for their cases to wind through backlogged immigration courts, face dangerous and possibly deadly conditions.

Migrants who claim fear of returning to Mexico can ask to stay in the United States for the duration of their court case. But just 1% of cases have been transferred out of the program, according to a Reuters analysis of federal immigration court data as of early October.

The administration has said the MPP program and other measures has helped lead to a decline in border arrests. In October, apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border fell for the fifth straight month, Morgan said.

The White House briefing followed a leadership change at the Homeland Security Department on Wednesday.

The Trump administration installed Chad Wolf, previously chief of staff to former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, as acting secretary. Wolf then announced that acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli – an immigration hard liner – would be elevated to the No. 2 position at the department.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Lisa Shumaker)

Police find 41 migrants alive in truck in northern Greece

Police find 41 migrants alive in truck in northern Greece
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek police found 41 migrants, mostly Afghans, hiding in a refrigerated truck at a motorway in northern Greece on Monday, officials said.

The discovery came 10 days after 39 bodies, all believed to be Vietnamese migrants, were discovered in the back of a refrigerated truck near London. Two people have been charged in Britain and eight in Vietnam over the deaths.

The refrigeration system in the truck where the migrants were found in northern Greece had not been turned on, and none of the migrants was injured, though some asked for medical assistance, a Greek police official said.

Police had stopped the truck near the city of Xanthi for a routine check, arresting the driver and taking him and the migrants to a nearby police station for identification.

Greece is currently struggling with the biggest resurgence in arrivals of migrants and refugees since 2015, when more than a million crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece.

Most of them are reaching Greek Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast via boats but a large number also come overland, using a river border crossing with Turkey.

Road accidents, mainly in northern Greece, involving migrants trying to cross into other countries have become more frequent in recent years. Police have arrested dozens of people believed to be involved in human trafficking so far in 2019.

About 34,000 asylum seekers and refugees are being held in overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands under conditions which human rights groups have slammed as appalling.

The conservative government that came to power in July has vowed to move up to 20,000 off the islands and deport 10,000 people who do not qualify for asylum by the end of 2020.

Arrivals of unaccompanied children have also increased. About 1,000 minors have arrived since July, the Greek labor ministry said, with the total number estimated at over 5,000.

A fifth of them are now missing, the ministry said, pledging to build more facilities and shelters for migrant children.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and Angeliki Koutantou; Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Greece moves more migrants to mainland, warns others to stay away

Greece moves more migrants to mainland, warns others to stay away
By Angeliki Koutantou

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek authorities moved more refugees and migrants from overcrowded island camps to the mainland on Tuesday as the government, facing a surge in new arrivals, said it would take a hardline on those who did not qualify for asylum.

Nearly 700 migrants and refugees arrived in the port of Elefsina near Athens from the island of Samos, officials said. Earlier, 120 people arrived from Lesbos at Greece’s main port, Pireaus.

Greece is struggling with the biggest resurgence in refugee and migrant flows across the Aegean Sea from Turkey since 2015, when more than a million crossed into Europe, many of them via Greece.

The islands, which are closest to Turkey, have been struggling under the influx, with some 33,700 refugees and migrants in overcrowded camps, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

In late September, a woman died in a fire in a tent in a camp on Lesbos, while a fire in an overcrowded camp in Samos forced hundreds of people into the streets this month.

“Our focus was mainly on Samos because we want things there to calm down,” migration ministry secretary Manos Logothetis told Reuters.

LOSING MONEY

Greece has adopted a tougher stance on migration since the conservative government led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis came to power in July.

Mitsotakis told his EU counterparts last week that the union must review asylum rules and warned economic migrants that they will be returned to Turkey if they are not entitled to asylum, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Tuesday.

“If they give their money to traffickers hoping to permanently cross into Europe, they will only lose it,” Petsas told reporters. “Even if they reach Greece, since they are not entitled to asylum, they will return to Turkey.”

“They can no longer come to Greece and apply for asylum hoping that they stay here forever, as it was the case with the previous government,” Petsas said, referring to former prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ left-led administration.

More than 12,000 people arrived in Greece in September, the highest level in the three-and-a-half years since the EU agreed a deal with Turkey to seal the Aegean corridor to Europe.

Athens has announced plans to deport 10,000 people who do not qualify for asylum by the end of next year.

Logothetis said up to 300 more people would be leaving Samos this week, and up to 2,000 from all outlying islands next week. Greece aims to move up to 20,000 off the islands by the end of the year, he said.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; writing by Renee Maltezou; editing by Angus MacSwan)