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'We are heading north!' - Migrants refuse offer to stay in Mexico

Published:Saturday | October 27, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Members of a US-bound migrant caravan gather between the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca after Mexico's federal police briefly blocked them outside the town of Arriaga, yesterday.

Hundreds of Mexican federal officers carrying plastic shields blocked a Central American caravan from advancing towards the United States yesterday, after a group of several thousand migrants turned down the chance to apply for refugee status and obtain a Mexican offer of benefits.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced what he called the "You are at home" plan, offering shelter, medical attention, schooling and jobs to Central Americans in Chiapas and Oaxaca states if migrants apply.

The plan is a first step towards permanent refugee status. Authorities said more than 1,700 had already applied for refugee status.

But a stand-off unfolded as federal police officers blocked the highway, saying there was an operation under way to stop the caravan. Thousands of migrants waited to advance, vowing to continue their long trek towards the US border.

At a meeting brokered by Mexico's National Human Rights Commission, police said they would reopen the highway and only wanted an opportunity for federal authorities to explain the proposal to migrants who had rejected it the previous evening.

Migrants countered that the middle of a highway was no place to negotiate, and said they wanted to at least arrive safely to Mexico City to discuss the topic with authorities and Mexican lawmakers.




They agreed to relay information back to their respective sides and said they would reconvene.

Orbelina Orellana, a migrant from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, said she and her husband left three children behind and had decided to continue north one way or another.

"Our destiny is to get to the border," Orellana said.

She was suspicious of the government's proposal and said that some Hondurans who had applied for legal status had already been sent back. Her claims could not be verified, but migrants' representatives in the talks asked the Mexican Government to provide a list of anyone who had been forced to return.

The stand-off comes after one of the caravan's longest days of walking and hanging from passing trucks on a 60-mile (100 kilometre) journey to the city of Arriaga.