Several thousand migrants have set out from southern Mexico in a caravan bound for the United States, which is hoping to address regional migration during talks at the Summit of the Americas this week in Los Angeles.
Migration activists said the group, which left from the Mexican city of Tapachula on Monday, could be one of the region’s largest migrant caravans in recent years.
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The caravan was estimated to include 4,000 to 5,000 people, mostly from Central America, Venezuela and Cuba, The Associated Press reported, while witnesses told Reuters that the group counted approximately 6,000 people.
Mexico’s National Institute for Migration did not provide an estimate of the group’s size and provided no additional comment on the caravan.
Caravan organiser Luis Garcia Villagran said the group represented various nationalities of people fleeing hardship in their home countries, including many from Venezuela.
“These are countries collapsing from poverty and violence,” he said. “We strongly urge those who attend the summit … to look at what is happening, and what could happen even more often in Mexico, if something is not done soon.”
Tapachula serves as a key point in the journey of many migrants and asylum seekers hoping to reach the US, with thousands arriving in the city in Mexico’s southeastern Chiapas state in recent months.
For months, people have complained that Mexico’s strategy of containing them in the southernmost reaches of the country has made their lives miserable. Many carry significant debts for their migration and there are few opportunities for work in Mexico’s south.
Ruben Medina, of Venezuela, said he and 12 members of his family found themselves in southern Mexico because of his country’s president, Nicolas Maduro.
“[We have] been waiting about two months for the visa and still nothing, so better to start walking in this march,” Medina told AP.
“They gave us an appointment for August 10 in [the asylum commission], and we don’t have the money to wait,” said Joselyn Ponce of Nicaragua. “We had to walk around hiding from immigration, there were raids, because if they catch us they will lock us up.”
The caravan set off as Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would not attend the Summit of the Americas, serving a blow to the Biden administration’s efforts to use the meetings to build more regional cooperation on migration.
US President Joe Biden, who promised to reverse some of his predecessor Donald Trump’s most restrictive immigration policies, has been under pressure to address increasing numbers of asylum seekers arriving at the country’s southern border with Mexico.
The US hoped to end a contentious border restriction known as Title 42 last month, but a federal judge on May 20 blocked that effort.
The policy, which allows US authorities to turn away most people who arrive at the border without giving them a chance to apply for protection, has been slammed by migration advocates as a violation of US and international law.
Despite the restriction, many asylum seekers continue to make long and often arduous journeys to Mexican border cities and towns, in hopes of being allowed to enter the US.
Over the years, thousands have joined caravans in hopes that walking in large numbers would provide them with greater protection and success. Authorities in Guatemala and Mexico broke up several previous caravans before they could reach the US border, however.
Colombian migrant Robinson Reyes, 35, said he hoped the group would attract the attention of leaders at the Americas summit.
“We want a future for our children … we want to cross Mexico without any problems,” he said. “God willing, they can talk and resolve this.”