TAPANATEPEC, Mexico — The Mexican government seems torn between stopping several thousand Central American migrants from traveling toward the U.S. border in a caravan or burnishing its international human rights image.
On Saturday, more than a hundred federal police dressed in riot gear blocked a rural highway in southern Mexico shortly before dawn to encourage the migrants to apply for refugee status in Mexico rather than continuing the long, arduous journey north. U.S. President Donald Trump has urged Mexico to prevent the caravan from reaching the border.
Police let the caravan proceed after representatives from Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission convinced them that a rural stretch of highway without shade, toilets or water was no place for migrants to entertain an offer of asylum. Many members of the caravan have been traveling for more than two weeks, since a group first formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Not long after the caravan resumed the trek north Saturday, government officials were seen for the first time directly helping the migrants by giving rides in trucks and providing water along the scorching highway.
Martin Rojas, an agent from Mexico’s migrant protection agency Grupo Beta, said he and his fellow agents planned to use agency pickup trucks to help stragglers catch up with the caravan.
“There are people fainting, there are wounded,” said Rojas, who spoke to The Associated Press after dropping off a group of women and children in Tapanatepec, where the caravan planned to spend the night. Rojas transported the group to their destination after spotting them on a highway trudging through temperatures approaching 104 degrees.
Most of the migrants in the caravan appeared determined to reach the U.S., despite an offer of refuge in Mexico.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto launched a program on Friday dubbed “You are home,” which promises shelter, medical attention, schooling and jobs to Central Americans who agree to stay in the southern Mexico states of Chiapas or Oaxaca.