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Scalabrini shelter in Guatemala swamped by Hondurans seeking safety

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Scalabrini shelter in Guatemala swamped by Hondurans seeking safety

Scalabrini migrant shelter in Guatemala City has served 1,700 Hondurans heading
north as part of a caravan seeking to reach the U.S. border.

Carlos Lopez, a shelter official,
told Catholic News Service the Scalabrini facility in Guatemala normally serves
up to 80 guests at a time, but the number of migrants arriving from Honduras
has forced the shelter to offer lodging in a nearby school.

Resources, he added, are
strained and “staff are exhausted,” having worked 48 hours nonstop.
Rain is also making life miserable for migrants traveling mostly on foot and
sometimes forced to sleep outside.

“We have a soccer field
full of people, in the dining room, in every nook and cranny. They’re on the
bleachers, in the school gym,” he said Oct. 18. “The problem now is
feeding people and hygiene. … We’re experiencing chaos right now.”

A caravan of Hondurans departed
the city of San Pedro Sula Oct. 13, but its ranks swelled as it crossed into
Guatemala. Lopez said no one was certain of the caravan’s exact size, but he
compared it to a “snowball going downhill” and estimated it at more
than 5,000 participants.

“This is a humanitarian
crisis. Here there are 75-year-old elderly women and 2-month-old babies,”
he said.

The caravan has captured the
attention of Trump, who threatened to cut off assistance to Guatemala and
Honduras — $1.1 billion in 2017 and 2018, according to the Washington Office on
Latin America — if the caravan proceeded.

Guatemala issued a statement
saying it would stop the caravan, even though Central American countries allow each
other’s citizens to cross borders freely.

Mexico sent two planeloads of federal
police officers to its southern border Oct. 15 as the first migrants in the
caravan arrived in the area. The country’s foreign ministry said in a statement
anyone with the proper papers could enter Mexico, while those planning to apply
for asylum could do so. Anyone not meeting the entry requirements would be
turned back, however.

In a tweet, U.S. Vice President
Mike Pence warned Central American migrants to stay put, saying the road north
poses risks and “if (migrants) cannot come to the U.S. legally, they
should not come at all.”

The northern triangle of Central
America — Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — is one of the most violent
regions in the world, though murder rates have declined in recent years.
Nicaragua has also experienced an outflow due to political unrest and attacks
by police and paramilitaries on the opposition, though many of those migrants
head to neighboring Costa Rica.

“Poverty, the lack of
opportunities, violence and extortion due to gangs … (people) can no longer
live with such anxiety and, hence, are taking these actions,” Lopez said.

In 2017, nearly 299,000 Central
Americans were considered refugees or applied for asylum, according to the
Jesuit Network with Migrants — Central America and North America.

“The daily crisis of
subsistence … derived from the imposition of authoritarian political systems
and economic models, which exclude, force people to flee their countries to have
a dignified life and sometimes save their lives,” the network said in a
statement Oct. 17.


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