Mexican President Warns 'Caravan'; UN Spokesman Mum on How Officials Should Respond to Migrants Entering Mexico Illegally

By Patrick Goodenough | October 23, 2018 | 4:29 AM EDT

Participants in the migrant “caravan,” some carrying Honduran and Nicaraguan flags, cross the border form Guatemala into Mexico on October 21, 2018. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

( – Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Monday warned Central American migrants who entered Mexico illegally in recent days as part of a U.S.-bound “caravan” that they were unlikely to achieve either the goal of staying in Mexico or of entering the United States.

Peña Nieto addressed his remarks to those “caravan” participants who chose not to enter Mexican territory legally. While hundreds took the offered opportunity to apply for asylum, others overwhelmed unarmed Mexican police at the Mexico-Guatemala border bridge crossing or swam, waded or rafted across the Suchiate river.

A U.N. spokesman on Monday put the estimated size of the swelling column of people making their way through southern Mexico at “some 7,233 persons.”

Earlier President Trump tweeted the Mexican police and military were apparently unable to stop the caravan from heading northwards, and that he had alerted the U.S. Border Patrol and military that the situation constituted a national emergency.

Speaking at a business summit forum, Peña Nieto said some of the migrants “have heeded the recommendation of the Mexican government to begin the refugee application process, and be able to acquire orderly, legal migrant status.”

But to those operating outside the law, he said, “I respectfully urge them to be aware that, if they maintain this attitude, they are unlikely to achieve their goal of either entering the United States or remaining in Mexico.”

Any actions that fail to observe Mexico’s laws “will not allow members of this caravan to achieve their objective.”

Late last week the Mexican government requested the help of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR to help process asylum requests on those participants in the caravan wanting to apply – in southern Mexico.

In New York, an U.N. migration and human rights official on Friday urged the Mexican and U.S. authorities to “individually” consider each would-be migrant – rather than, for instance, take the approach of “massive collective expulsions.”

But on Monday a spokesman for U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres during a press briefing declined to be drawn when asked what the authorities were expected to do if the migrants did not want to be processed individually.

“They didn't want to wait to be individually evaluated for refugee status, and they stormed through and into Mexico,” a reporter pointed out.

“What does the secretarygeneral think is appropriate in terms of handling a large group of people who have endrun the process consistent with international law to assess their refugee status?” he asked. “Does he think that they should have a choice as to where they apply for refugee status?”


Spokesman Farhan Haq in reply said only that it was the U.N.’s expectation that those concerned work with and through U.N. channels – UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – working with local authorities.

The reporter tried again, noting that the migrants had been given the opportunity to apply for asylum in Mexico. If they chose not to do so but to enter Mexico unlawfully, he asked, did Guterres think blocking the U.S. southern border to stop them from reaching “the destination of their choice” was a permissible response under international law?

Haq repeated the U.N.’s hope that the people would “work through established channels.”

“But what if they don't?” the reporter pressed.

“I’m not going to speculate on whatifs,” said Haq. “What we’re trying to do is have a situation – a system put in place where the nations and the people cooperate on a system that can work for them all.”

“In response to a separate question on the U.S. threats to seal off the border, Haq said the U.N. secretariat believes that “there needs to be full respect for countries’ rights to manage their own borders.”

“At the same time, this situation needs to be dealt with in line with international law, and the states in the region need to cooperate on resolving the situation,” he said.

Citing IOM officials on the ground, Haq said, “at this time, it is estimated that the caravan comprises some 7,233 persons, many of whom intend to continue the march north.”

‘Security concerns should not overshadow human rights commitments’

On Friday, a U.N. human rights expert told reporters in New York that the U.S. and Mexican authorities should treat each caravan participant individually and with respect for their human rights.

“They’re not moving just for coincidence from their own countries, but [from] conditions that are serious.” Said the “special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants,” Felipe Gonzalez Morales of Chile.

Respecting their rights, he said, means that “each and every case has to be individually considered.”

“There cannot be massive collective expulsions for instance, in violation of international law.”

Gonzalez also said he has contacted U.S. authorities on several occasions about various aspects of migration policies, including “how they deal with migrants who come to the border, that security concerns should not overshadow human rights commitments that the U.S. – as any other government – has according to international law.”

“They have to take seriously the requests for asylum that some of them may have,” he said. U.S. authorities were also obliged to take into account humanitarian considerations, “including the fact that many of these people may be escaping from serious risks to their lives.”

Gonzalez also expressed concern about a trend in a number of so-called destination countries to pursue measures including detentions “on a massive scale,” and to adopt laws that criminalize “irregular entry of a person into the territory of a country.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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