UN helps hundreds of C. American caravan migrants return home
The United Nations said Friday it had helped hundreds of Central Americans who travelled with migrant caravans towards the United States to return to their home countries.
The International Organization for Migration said as of Wednesday, it had helped 453 migrants, including unaccompanied children, who had expressed the desire to return to their countries of origin.
In addition, "over 300 Central American migrants have expressed their interest in returning from Tijuana, and IOM is coordinating safe and dignified means of transport for them," the UN agency's spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva.
He said that a full 84 percent of those already returned to their countries were men, and that most had been returned to Honduras (57 percent) and El Salvador (38 percent), while five percent had been sent back to Guatemala.
"Twenty-five unaccompanied migrant children returned by plane," he said.
More than 6,000 migrants who travelled to the northern Mexican city by caravan are camped out hoping to apply for asylum or sneak into the United States, fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries.
US President Donald Trump, who has called the caravan an "invasion" full of "hardened criminals" and "thugs," is seeking to overhaul asylum policy to keep applicants out pending approval.
Facing a hostile welcome and little hope, a growing number of migrants have decided to turn back.
IOM's return assistance from Mexico is being funded by the US State Department's Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration, to the tune of $1.2 million.
Millman rejected that IOM faced any pressure from US authorities to press migrants to return home.
He stressed that migrants who expressed a desire to go back were counselled and screened by IOM to evaluate their options prior to making the final decision.
He said many of the migrants interviewed as part of the return process had said they first learned of the caravans through social media and had joined neighbours and friends "almost on impulse" on the trek north, without thinking too much about the challenges of the journey.
"I can assume that... there will be more" who will want to return home, Millman said.
"How many people have the means or the stomach to spend months in Tijuana?"