Migrants in caravan shrug over US vote, eye change at home

Migrants from Central American countries -mostly Hondurans- heading in a caravan to the US, get on board a truck on the Puebla-Mexico City highway, in Puebla state, Mexico, on November 5, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2018

Migrants in caravan shrug over US vote, eye change at home

  • Mexican authorities say some 3,230 migrants from the caravan have requested refuge

MEXICO CITY: The migrants in a caravan used by President Donald Trump as a campaign issue were almost universally unaware of the results of the US midterm elections.
The Central Americans were more concerned with the dangers of northern Mexico as they struggled to reach the US border, still hundreds of miles away, than with who controls the US Senate and House of Representatives.
Kenia Johana Hernandez, a 26-year Honduran farmworker, left her country with her 2-year-old daughter because she couldn’t afford child care or schooling. Asked if her decision to emigrate had anything to do with the US elections, the answer was a simple, “No.”
For her, the caravan was merely a safety measure. “If I had come alone with just my daughter, maybe I wouldn’t have even made it this far because it is so dangerous,” she said.
Gilberta Raula, 38, from Samala, Guatemala, joined the caravan at the Mexican border because it seemed her best chance to get her 15-year-old daughter out of the country. She left six other children behind, but wants to give her daughter an opportunity to study and work.
She had only the vaguest idea of the issues surrounding Tuesday’s US midterms.
What she did know, she said, was that “the US president has acted badly.”
“The way we hear it, he doesn’t like anybody,” she said of Trump. Told that Trump’s Republican party had lost control of the US House of Representatives she said, “Ah, good.” She, like others, expressed hope that somehow it might help their chances of finding refuge.
Franklin Martinez, a 46-year-old farmworker from La Esperanza, Honduras, said Wednesday he’d probably stay in Mexico City for a while before setting off again northward, to see if things changed following the US elections.
“Because now it’s an anti-immigrant wave,” Martinez said. “They’re not well-received at the border.”
Experts agree that the formation of this latest caravan and the others that have set off for the US border before it have far more to do with politics in Central America and current conditions in Mexico, where drug gangs frequently kidnap migrants to demand ransom from their families in the US.
“The first concern is collective security, there is safety in numbers,” said Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope. “There is a political logic to this, but it’s not exactly aimed at influencing the US elections.”
“It brings pressure on the authorities of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador more than anything else,” he said. “This sends a message that there is a human rights crisis in the Northern Triangle of Central America.”
That view was shared by former Honduran lawmaker Bartolo Fuentes, who helped formed the caravan of just a few hundred migrants that set out from Honduras on Oct. 13, before growing to as many as 7,000 at its peak. Fuentes told a news conference at the Mexico City stadium where the migrants are staying that the caravan embarrasses the Honduran government “because now the world is seeing the tragedy we live with.”
Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the Republican losses in the House suggest that Trump tried to use the migrants “politically, to depict the caravan as an invasion, and it didn’t work.”
Benitez said the caravan has put as much pressure on Mexico as the United States. After the migrants entered, Mexico came under pressure to accelerate the refugee and asylum process for Central Americans.
“The caravan shows that Mexico could give more humanitarian treatment to these people,” said Benitez, “that Mexico should treat these people the way Mexico wants the US to treat migrants.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Christopher Gascon, the Mexico representative for the International Organization for Migration, estimated there were about 6,000 migrants at the sports complex and maybe another 4,000 in caravans that are working their way through southern Mexico.
But some migrants had been visiting the organization’s tent asking about how they can return home.
“They perhaps didn’t have a very clear idea of what they faced,” Gascon said. He said the first bus leaving Mexico City to take migrants back to their countries was scheduled to depart Wednesday night with 40 to 50 people.
Meanwhile, other migrants were focusing on the daunting task of reaching the US border and presenting asylum requests there. The US elections occupied only a small part of their thoughts.
Nora Torres, a 53-year-old Honduran, anxiously asked a reporter: “How did he (Trump) do? Did he do well or poorly?“
Torres had run a small restaurant but closed it because gangs were demanding too much protection money.
For her, Trump’s threats to make attaining asylum even more difficult, of detaining applicants in tent cities and of sending as many as 15,000 US troops to the southern border were hard to understand.
“The United States needs Hispanic labor, because it is cheaper,” she said. “So why do they discriminate against us?“


Beijing says holding UK’s Hong Kong consulate employee

Updated 3 min 19 sec ago

Beijing says holding UK’s Hong Kong consulate employee

  • Simon Cheng went missing on Aug. 8 after sending his girlfriend a text message
  • Cheng is accused of violating the Public Security Administration Punishments Law

BEIJING: An employee of Britain’s consulate in Hong Kong who went missing earlier this month is being held in China, Beijing confirmed Wednesday.
The incident comes as relations between Britain and China have become strained over what Beijing calls London’s “interference” in pro-democracy protests that have wracked Hong Kong for three months.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing the detained man had been “placed in administrative detention for 15 days as punishment” by Shenzhen police for breaking a public security law.
Geng said the employee was from Hong Kong and therefore the issue was an internal matter.
“Let me clarify, this employee is a Hong Kong citizen, he’s not a UK citizen, which is also saying he’s a Chinese person,” Geng said.
The man, named by his family as Simon Cheng, traveled to Shenzhen, a megacity on the China-Hong Kong border, for a one-day business meeting on August 8.
That night, Cheng returned via high-speed train and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through customs.
“We lost contact with him since then,” the family said in a Facebook post.
Geng said the employee had violated the Public Security Administration Punishments Law — a law with broad scope aimed at “maintaining public order in society” and “safeguarding public security,” as well as making sure police and security forces act within the law.
The ongoing protests have raised fears of a Chinese crackdown in some form.
The unrest was initially triggered by a controversial law that would allow extradition to the mainland, but has since broadened into a call for wider democratic reforms.
Beijing has repeatedly warned Britain — the former colonial ruler of Hong Kong — against any “interference” in the protests, which erupted 11 weeks ago and have seen millions of people hit the streets calling for democratic reforms.
“Recently the UK has made many erroneous remarks about Hong Kong,” Geng said at the press briefing Wednesday.
“We once again urge the British side to stop gesticulating and fanning flames on the Hong Kong issue.”
With Beijing attempting to shape the narrative of the unrest in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities have increased their inspections at the Shenzhen border, including checking the phones and devices of some passengers for photos of the protests.
The mainland metropolis of Shenzhen sits behind China’s “Great Firewall” --which restricts access to news and information — while Hong Kong enjoys liberties unseen on the mainland.
China promised to respect the freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory after its handover from Britain in 1997, including freedom of speech, unfettered access to the Internet and an independent judiciary.
Beijing also faced criticism in the past for detaining foreign nationals amid ongoing diplomatic spats.
Ottawa has urged Beijing to release two Canadian citizens detained in December amid escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained amid a diplomatic crisis sparked by the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer for Chinese tech giant Huawei, in Vancouver on a US extradition bid.
Former diplomat Kovrig and consultant Spavor were picked up in China on suspicion of espionage days after her arrest, in a move widely seen as retaliation.
Friends of the missing employee staged a protest outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong on Wednesday afternoon to pressure the UK government to “save Simon.”
“Hong Kong people are still fighting to oppose the extradition bill, yet something like this happened without such a bill,” organizer Max Chung told AFP.
“If the Beijing government doesn’t explain to the public why this happened, then it is playing with fire. This is a warning to Hongkongers and to whoever wants to come to Hong Kong.”
Chung told the rally that “to our best understanding” his detained friend had not been involved with the ongoing protests that have engulfed the financial hub.
“Simon is a very good guy, and smart guy... I don’t think he would do anything stupid,” he added.