What is the caravan?

In October 2018,  more than seven thousand people, mainly from Honduras, but also from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, formed what the media called a “migrant caravan”.

The people of the caravan referred to themselves as “The Exodus”. They left behind authoritarian governments, state and police corruption, gang violence, and poverty. Many of them endured violence and persecution in the past and intended to ask for asylum when they reached the United States. Most of the people left family members behind, hoping to find employment in the US so they could send remittances home.

After the first caravan set out, at least three more caravans left Central America on their way north. A humanitarian crisis was looming on the border of the US.

To the land of the free.

Word spread through the states of Central America that a caravan was heading north to the United States of America. Thousands of men, women and children packed bags and left their homes, some at just a day’s notice, to join The Exodus and to achieve their American Dream.

Crossing borders through Central America.

Through the simple act of walking, this exodus of people challenged global concepts of borders, national sovereignty, human rights, and migration. Their march crossed numerous countries, thousands of kilometres, over several weeks, facing numerous dangers and challenges on the road.

They risked their lives for the “American Dream” but at the end of their journey through Central America nobody knew how they would be received by the US government.

Entering America

The migrant caravan provided safety in numbers for its members on the dangerous road north to the United States. Now that the caravan has arrived in Tijuana on the Mexico-US border many people in the caravan intend to ask the US government for asylum. Many have already asked for asylum in Mexico and have been awarded refugee visas. Some are trying to seek third-country resettlement through the UNHCR office in Mexico. While others will no doubt attempt to jump the border wall or cooperate with smugglers to enter the US.


How I got into this?

I was living in Mexico City when I heard that the migrant caravan had crossed the border from Guatemala into Mexico. After following the news of the caravan’s passage through Mexico for a week, I flew to Tuxtla Gutierrez – the capital of Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state – and hired a car. I wanted to see this phenomenon of human desperation for myself.

I was only meant to follow the caravan for a few days. However, I quickly became intrigued by the unique story of the caravan and the people involved. 

How the caravan works

How did so many people remain united across such a large distance in the face of numerous risks and challenges? The reality is the caravan would never have made it to the US border without internal management and external guidance from a pre-existing external network of Mexican civil society groups. But ultimately all decisions were ultimately made by the people. The result was organised chaos.

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The Peace March

On Sunday 25 November 2018, members of the Exodus organised a peaceful march to the US-Mexico Border to protest against the slow processing of asylum claims by the US government. The men, women and children were stopped a long way from the border by a heavy Mexican police presence. When members of the march evaded the police blockades, the action got out of hand. 

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The Wall

The wall is an ugly, distinctly unnatural structure. A monument to prejudice, isolationism, fear and hatred. Many people in the caravan see the wall as another obstacle to overcome and are willing to cooperate with people smugglers to make the jump. 

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Anti-migrant rally

A small but vocal group of protesters in Tijuana march to the shelter to voice their opposition to the migrant caravan. While their views are xenophobic, racist and ignorant, I hear similar opinions throughout my time in Tijuana. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that some people feel aggrieved by the support of the migrant caravan when so many Mexicans are poor.

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When the caravan arrives in Tijuana, the physical march to the US is more or less over. However, the most difficult part is yet to come. The US government is only accepting 40 asylum applications per day. With thousands of names on the list, the wait in Tijuana will be extended. But how will the people of Tijuana feel about this disruption?

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From Mexicali to Tijuana

The Rumorosa highway from Mexicali winds it way through the Sierra de Juárez Mountains of Baja California. Loose rock outcrops build towards the sky. A wide, scrubby desert stretches to the US border and beyond, fading into the hazy horizon. On the other side of the mountains the road beelines for Tijuana and the west coast.

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Mexicali is a dusty border town. The people of the caravan are packed into the few available guesthouses. Those who can’t fit sleep outside on the street in the middle of the red light district amongst prostitutes and drunks. There is only one road left to Tijuana and their hopes of entering the United States.

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Jalisco, Sinaloa and Sonora

Travelling through the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Sinaloa and Sonora the Exodus faces numerous challenges. With more than 2,000 kilometres of road to cover, parts of which are infamous for drug cartel operations, the caravan is dislocated and separated by unreliable assistance from Mexican state governments.

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CDMX to Queretaro

The people of the Exodus begin walking to the highway. Their path takes us alongside busy roads and underneath overpasses. Blaring horns fill our ears. Pollution and smog is blown in our faces. But after weeks of walking the people of the Exodus are accustomed to this life. People on the road become people of the road.

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The Assembly

Public assemblies are held every evening to decide the Exodus’ next steps: whether they will move, what route they will take and what time they will depart. Any migrant can stand up and speak at the assemblies. This assembly in Mexico City is a significant one: which route should they take north to the US border?

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The stop at CDMX

The Exodus has arrived in Mexico City and is being hosted in a sporting complex at the Magdalena Mixhuca Sports City. The reception in Mexico City feels like a carnival. Everywhere I look there are tents for NGOs and church groups offering all sorts of services. It is expected that the people of the caravan will make the most of the city’s hospitality and stay for a few days.

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From Chiapas to Oaxaca

The caravan leaves the land of the jaguar behind on its way north to the land of the coyote. It passes through the reddish-brown corn fields of Oaxaca, little haciendas and rancheros, and jimadores cutting agave plants. It’s a picturesque setting for a mass migration.

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Who are they?

The people of the Exodus are mothers, brothers, children and grandparents. Each of them have left homes and families behind in their search for the American dream. These are their stories of why they left and the journeys that brought them to Mexico.

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