SEATTLE, Washington — Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 hit Honduras in early 2020 and left the country with a crippled economy and a public health crisis. As a reaction, a caravan from Honduras set course for the United States in October. The migrants hope to acquire better employment opportunities and living conditions. Caravans have become increasingly popular in recent years as Latin American countries face turmoil and hardship, causing their citizens to flee in pursuit of a better life. However, this effort is dangerous and often futile. Officials and organizations are stepping in both to promote the migrants’ safety and prevent them from leaving the country.
COVID-19 and the Economy
Poverty and unemployment have historically motivated the formation of caravans in Latin America. Many Latin American countries have struggled to maintain strong central governments, grow healthy economies and provide sufficient public services. However, the flow of migrants from these areas decreased dramatically in the first two quarters of 2020. This was due to movement restrictions the government put in place to control the spread of COVID-19.
The negative effects of the pandemic, which triggered a steep rise in unemployment and poverty, motivated the most recent caravan from Honduras. Since COVID-19 began, Latin Americans have lost more than 34 million jobs. Additionally, people have lost 20.9% of working hours. The economy has contracted by a record-breaking 7-8%, and thousands of Hondurans have been pushed into poverty after losing their jobs. The poverty rate will likely reach 62%, and countless people are becoming homeless because they can no longer afford rent.
The pandemic has created widespread economic hardship for many. Combined with rampant corruption and increased violence, Hondurans feeling unsafe and desperate for change.
The Caravan Meets Some Hurdles
Migrants organized the caravan from Honduras through social media and planned to set out in October. First, they would travel through Guatemala and then Mexico before reaching the U.S. border. However, the likelihood of the caravan reaching the United States is extremely small. Especially, since the two countries they must travel through are braced to block the passage. In the first week of October, more than 4,000 migrants crossed into Guatemala from Honduras. At least 3,000 either opted to return home or were forcibly returned by officials.
Hundreds of migrants are continuing through Mexico. However, Mexican police and the National Guard are poised to prevent the caravan from passing through to the United States. Officials have also deemed the migration effort a health risk because the migrants are traveling through multiple countries amid the pandemic and only some wear masks. Furthermore, they have been staying in migrant camps that usually lack adequate sanitation or health services.
Reasons for the Caravan
While the recent caravan from Honduras is unlikely to reach the U.S. border, the desperation of the Hondurans conveys the gravity of the situation. Aware of the risks posed by COVID-19, the long journey and the fact that they may never reach their destination, migrants would still rather leave their home. This caravan, and others like it, show how dire the economic situation is in Honduras.
Members of the Guatemalan Red Cross have stepped in to provide food, water and medical assistance as what remains of the caravan continues its journey. It has dispatched a mobile clinic with 40 volunteers to provide medical assistance to those in need. Additionally, in response to this crisis, the Honduran government stated that it plans to improve the economic situation. The government hopes to help Hondurans feel more secure and take measures to prevent people from migrating illegally.
Though these efforts constitute imperative first steps, more intervention by the central government and international bodies is necessary. Only then will Hondurans no longer feel the need to flee their home in order to survive.
– Angelica Smyrnios