"Sickness, fear and police harassment" has taken its toll on the migrant caravan making its way to the US border, according to AP, as several hundred asylum seekers have accepted government offers to bus them back to their countries of origin.
The group, many with children and even pushing toddlers in strollers, planned to depart Mapastepec at dawn Thursday with more than 1,000 miles still to go before they reach the U.S. border.
Jose David Sarmientos Aguilar, a 16-year-old student from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was one of at least 80 migrants waiting in the town square of Huixtla, where the rest of the caravan departed Wednesday morning, for four buses that would take them back to Honduras.
Sarmientos Aguilar said it was partly the spontaneous nature of the caravan — many people joined on the spur of the moment — as well as the rumors of migrants dying that did him in. -AP
Aguilar says he joined the march "without thinking about what could happen and the consequences it could bring," and that the Monday death of a migrant who fell from a truck, as well as rumors of two more killed in the town of Huixtla, pushed him over the edge.
"There have been a lot of tragedies. It’s not necessary to go on losing more lives to reach there (the U.S.)," said Aguilar. "I am a little sick in the chest. I have a cough. And so instead of risking getter sicker and something happening to me, it’s better to go home."
As the New York Times notes: "Recently there has been a sense that the caravan is fraying. Nervousness and exhaustion have contributed to heightened anxiety and paranoia. Sickness is spreading quickly. Dehydration, sore throats, blistered feet, respiratory infections, pink eye and other ailments and injuries are slowing some members and knocking others out of the migration."
Adding to the desperation was a sleepless night on Tuesday in the town of Huixtla due to a rumor "that a band of baby snatchers was prowling the encampments," according to The Times.
Sick and home-sick
Another sick migrant, Carlos Roberto Hernandez of Yoro province in Honduras, told AP that after enduring punishing heat during the day and heavy rains at night, he'll never try to reach the United States again. Another migrant, Pedro Arturo Torres, was simply homesick.
“We got hit by rain, and ever since then I’ve had a cold,” Hernandez said. Asked if he would make another attempt to reach the U.S., he said emphatically: “No. I’m going to make my life in Honduras.”
For Pedro Arturo Torres, it appeared to be homesickness that broke his determination to reach the U.S.
“We didn’t know what lay ahead,” said Torres. “We want to return to our country, where you can get by — even if just with beans, but you can survive, there with our families, at peace.” -AP
Mexican federal police have also played a role in the decision by some to turn back - giving food, water and restroom access only to those who turn themselves in to immigration officers for deportation or to apply for a visa. So far nearly 1,700 migrants have dropped out and applied for asylum in Mexico according to officials.
Federal police have also interfered with the caravan, after AP reporters saw officers force migrants off a van so they had to walk, while allowing Mexican passengers to remain aboard.
President Trump on Thursday recommended that the migrants turn around, tweeting: "To those in the Caravan, turnaround, we are not letting people into the United States illegally. Go back to your Country and if you want, apply for citizenship like millions of others are doing!"
To those in the Caravan, turnaround, we are not letting people into the United States illegally. Go back to your Country and if you want, apply for citizenship like millions of others are doing!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2018
AP also reports that the caravan appears to have diminished overnight.
In Mapastepec, where the main group stayed Wednesday night, it appeared the size of the caravan had diminished slightly. The United Nations estimated earlier in the week that about 7,000 people were in the group. The Mexican government gave its own figure Wednesday of “approximately 3,630.” -AP
Earlier this year a smaller caravan attempted the trip through Mexico, with only around 200 making it to the California border.