Caravan Migrants Threaten Hunger Strike Until Demands Are Met
Many begin to flee camps in Tijuana as disease spreads in squalid conditions
Thousands of migrants from the Central American caravans, who are currently in camps in Tijuana, Mexico after a failed rush at the United States border last week, have announced they will go on hunger strike until the US meets their demands.
The caravanners marched toward the border late on Thursday announcing their strike before they were intercepted by a group of Mexican federal police officers in riot gear around 200 yards from the border crossing.
The lead marchers threatened that the migrants would refuse to eat and demanded to pass but officers refused to step aside.
Around 100 more cops with shields and helmets lined the street to keep a watchful eye on the stand-off, which took place around four blocks from the border fence.
Caravan organizers sent a group of around 20 flag-waving migrants, mainly women and children, who warned of a hunger strike while officers said they couldn't risk a repeat of Sunday's violence that ended with tear gas being hurled.
According to the Daily Mail, Police warned they wouldn't be allowed 'to take one more stop' so the group responded by praying and breaking into song.
A group comprising 25 women and 25 men announced their plan to protest at 1 pm local time in front of immigration offices at the crossing between Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego on Thursday.
The move came after news that hundreds of migrants have decided to return to the gang-plagued Central American countries because conditions are so bad in the crumbling Benito Juárez sports complex that is now a squalid temporary home to an estimated 6,000 people.
A committee of women migrants announced at a press conference Thursday that they would go on hunger strike to pressure both the Mexican government and US border officials to speed up the process for asylum.
Ringleader Claudia Miranda, a Honduran national, denied the move was a political stunt, claiming it was organized entirely by females who were tired of 'not having a voice.'
She said the 50 participants would not eat until an agreement was reached to either give them humanitarian visas to temporarily stay in Mexico or have US officials finally process their claims.
US agents have been 'metering' applications for political asylum to as little as 40 days, amid growing tensions at the border which saw border agents fire tear gas at a group of around 100 migrants, including children, who tried to 'rush' the border fence on Sunday.
'If the US permits us to enter they will learn that we are not criminals,' Miranda said, insisting that the protest would not result in similarly violent scenes.
She accused the US in particular of using 'illegal' delaying tactics to try to make the migrants lose faith and return to their gang-plagued lives in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
'We need answers. We are not operating in a clandestine way. We came here for a reason and we want the Mexicans and the Americans to respect the process,' she added.
Despite traveling as much as 4,500 miles - much of it on foot - hundreds of migrants have already accepted free flights home rather than stay longer in the filth-strewn sports complex 100 yards from the border fence.
Lice and respiratory infections are becoming endemic and health workers warn that it's a matter of 'when, not if' an outbreak of serious disease sweeps the scruffy labyrinth of tents and tarps.
Tijuana's Health Department revealed on Thursday that there are cases of migrants suffering from tuberculosis, chickenpox, skin infections, and there is now a risk of a hepatitis outbreak due to the squalid conditions.
So far, there have been three confirmed cases of tuberculosis, four of chickenpox, and four cases of HIV/AIDS.
Mexican officials revealed that around 200 migrants volunteered this week for repatriation, with more than a hundred have already flown home from Tijuana's airport Monday.
A further 98 were forcibly removed after Sunday's violent clashes.
Also present at Thursday's press conference was the activist group Pueblas Sin Fronteras, who have consistently denied organizing the migrant caravan that set off from Honduras six weeks ago, igniting a political firestorm and promoting an irate President Donald Trump to send US troops to the border to head off what he described as an 'invasion'.
Irineo Mujica, one or the group's leaders, insisted Thursday he was there solely to show support and help give out aid.
'The hunger strike is a tool. It's a peaceful weapon and it's aimed toward God - not at Donald Trump,' he said.
Meanwhile, it had also been revealed that no criminal charges will be filed against any of the 42 people arrested on Sunday in the border clash that ended with U.S. authorities firing tear gas into Mexico.
The decision not to prosecute comes despite President Donald Trump's vow that the U.S. will not tolerate lawlessness and extensive preparations for the caravan, which included deployment of thousands of active-duty troops to the border.
Charges were not filed because the administration generally doesn't separate families and because Customs and Border Protection didn't collect enough evidence needed to build cases, including the names of arresting officers, according to a U.S. official.
Customs and Border Protection acknowledged that no charges were filed but declined to say why.
Administration officials have portrayed the caravan as a lawless, violent mob, saying there are some 600 people in the group who have a criminal history.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a tweet after the Sunday clash that the actions by the migrants were 'dangerous and not consistent with peacefully seeking asylum.'
'The perpetrators will be prosecuted,' she said then.