Thousands of Central American migrants are travelling in a so-called caravan through Mexico, enduring what is potentially a deadly journey in hopes of entering the United States and claiming asylum.
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The approximately 7,000 migrants, however, are facing strong opposition from U.S. President Donald Trump who has promised to send troops to the border and stopped the “invasion.”
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Trump has repeatedly urged the migrants to turn around — but many are continuing forward. They say they have no other choice.
Here is a look at who exactly is in the caravan, and why they are risking their lives despite Trump’s warnings.
Where are they coming from?
The bulk of illegal immigrants intercepted at the U.S. border are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, known as the “northern triangle of Central America.”
All three of these countries have long been grappling with poverty, political instability and organized crime and violence. The roots of many of these conflicts can be traced back to years-old civil wars.
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In recent years, the number of people fleeing these three countries has increased, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
About 388,000 people fled the countries in 2016, and similar numbers continued in 2017.
In one story, reported by the Guardian, one migrant traveller said she decided to leave El Salvador after thugs entered her home and threatened her son.
“The situation is really ugly here, so we’ve decided to leave,” 40-year-old Anabel Flores told the newspaper.
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She said travelling alone with young sons would have been too dangerous, especially because of sexual assault fears.
According to the CIA Factbook, the country has one of the highest homicide rates and is known for the prevalence of criminal gang activity.
The CIA Factbook also explains that poverty is so widespread in Guatemala that nearly half the children under five years of age are malnourished.
Nearly 60 per cent of the country lives below the poverty line, and about 23 per cent are classified as living in extreme poverty.
Much of the country’s political and economic instability stems from its civil war, which took place between 1960 and 1996 and left about 200,000 civilians dead.
Honduras has undergone political turmoil since a 2009 military coup against populist president Manuel Zelaya.
In the 2018 election, the results were contested and the country was once again plunged into a political crisis. At least 30 people were killed, most of them opponents of U.S.-backed President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who was accused of rigging the vote.
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The country has one of the highest homicide and violent crime rates in the world.
Economically, CNN reports it is the second-poorest country in Central America.
Climate change and natural disasters
Another factor leading migrants to flee their Central American countries is climate change. All three of these countries have seen environmental disasters such as earthquakes and major droughts in recent years.
Many of the migrants are farmers whose livelihoods have been drastically affected by a changing climate.
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One Latino studies researcher, Robert Albro, explained to the Guardian that many people are moving because of growing food insecurity.
“The main reason people are moving is because they don’t have anything to eat,” he said. “This has a strong link to climate change – we are seeing tremendous climate instability that is radically changing food security in the region.”
What route are they taking?
On Oct. 12, about 160 Hondurans began the caravan in the town of San Pedro Sula. The aspiring migrants organized via WhatsApp chats.
The size of the caravan quickly grew as word spread on social media.
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By Oct. 15, the caravan was about 1,600 strong after crossing the border into Guatemala.
Vox reports that the caravan continued to grow and was at about 3,000 individuals as it crossed into Mexico on Oct. 19.
The Associated Press estimated 4,000 to 5,000 migrants walked into Mapastepec on Oct. 22.
The United Nations has estimated the total number to be about 7,000., including 2,300 children.
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Organizers of the caravan told CNN that they aren’t sure exactly when they will cross into the U.S., and the journey is expected to be slow as many travel by foot.
It is also unclear which part of the U.S.-Mexico border they will attempt to cross.
Some migrants in the caravan may not even attempt to cross the border, as many are suffering from exhaustion and are losing hope. Migrants may try to stay in Mexico or attempt to return to their country of origin.
— With files from the Associated Press