Central American migrants trek north to seek a better life

Central American migrants trek north to seek a better life


The fearful look on the face of a Central American man cradling a baby in his arms as he scrambled away from a wall of Mexican police in riot gear quickly became one of the defining images taken by Reuters photographers of the migrant caravan that started entering Mexico on Oct. 19.

Hundreds of migrants, mostly from Honduras, rushed through Guatemalan border gates onto a long bridge connecting to Mexico. But the surge was halted by massed ranks of Mexican federal police with Perspex shields and helmets.

Many of the migrants spent that night on the bridge, while hundreds of others eventually chose to jump into the Suchiate River below in a bid to reach Mexican soil. Within a few days, as many as 10,000 migrants had entered Mexico, caravan members said.

Ueslei Marcelino: "The migrants had already broken through the first police barricade on the Guatemalan side of the bridge. After a while, they moved towards the second barricade on the Mexican side.

The push by the migrants to enter Mexico had eased and suddenly women and children formed a line and started to walk towards the police. There was a bit of pushing and shoving, and then things started to get increasingly chaotic.

It was a march that turned into a protest and ended up in confusion. Of course, it affected me. I'm also a father of a nine-year-old girl. It was impossible not to think about being that father caught up in that panicked situation.

After taking the photo, I took others of families coming out of the restrictive cordon created by police. The confusion was brought under control after gas was used to disperse them, and the migrants were pushed back to the Guatemalan side."

. Tapanatepec, Mexico. Reuters/Hannah McKay
A migrant rests on the roadside.

Hannah McKay: "I took this photograph at the end of my first day in Mexico covering the migrant caravan story. It was late in the evening and the migrants were bedding down for their second night in the town of San Pedro Tapanatepec, having walked 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Arriaga to get there the previous day.

I came across this man sitting on the roadside beside a police car, watching as the officers helped settle the other migrants. Come darkness, these people sleep wherever they can to rest as much as possible before the cycle of walking begins again.

Typically, the migrants' routine begins at around 3am, where they walk along highways in total darkness, hoping to hitchhike from passing trucks and avoiding police blockades. With temperatures reaching up to 35 degrees Celsius (95°F), the migrants try to get to the next town before the heat of the day.

The determination of the migrants to reach the United States is apparent. They are in good health, their spirits are high and they are hopeful that there is a better life for them at the end of this journey."

. Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. Reuters/Edgard Garrido
A child cries at a checkpoint.

Edgard Garrido: "A small Honduran child cried as the oppressive heat, uproar from the surrounding crowd and hours of waiting with his mother to enter Mexico legally became too much to bear.

The image conveys the plight faced by many families traveling with children in tow, where fatigue, uncertainty, and the elements have an added level of drama.

After traveling to the Mexico-Guatemala border, many of the migrants then had to wait three or four days on the bridge for Mexican authorities to let them cross the border. The wait is long and tedious, but hours after this picture was taken, the wailing child and mother were both let into Mexico.

This scene, and others like it, hit home. A lack of opportunities, endemic violence and poverty prompted these families to abandon their homeland and embark on this arduous journey.

The challenge in taking these pictures is getting to know the people, documenting this incredibly transcendental moment in their lives and conveying their humanity as truthfully as possible.

I have been covering migrants since 2006 and followed this particular caravan of migrants for two weeks as they traveled through Guatemala to the Mexican border.

As a photographer you have to make sure you put yourself in the right place and have the right light. Sometimes that is more obvious than others. In chaotic situations like this in the midst of hundreds of people, my experience and intuition guide me. I go searching for the light and underneath it inevitably there will be incredible moments to photograph."

. Tecun Uman, Guatemala. Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A group of men pull down the border gate in Tecun Uman.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins: "This picture of men trying to pull down the Mexican border gate seems to symbolize the struggle at the heart of this story: the tension between the urge to find a better life and governments' attempts to control borders.

Hundreds of migrants had gathered at dawn on the bridge that marks the border between Guatemala and Mexico. They hoped the guards would open the gates and let them pass through as they moved towards the United States. But the gates stayed locked and as the day wore on tensions rose and tempers frayed.

In the early afternoon, people started to attack the Mexican border fence. A police helicopter flew overhead and riot police launched teargas canisters into the crowd, while migrants threw stones. The struggle carried on into the night but the migrants were unsuccessful and the gates remained closed. One man from Honduras died in the clashes.

The following day the group started going down into the Suchiate River where they formed a human chain and crossed into Mexico. The caravan might have started as individuals but as time has gone on I've noticed a sense of solidarity growing among the group. They try to keep to the pace of the most vulnerable, people carry each other's children and share what food they have.

People here are walking in hope of finding the American Dream - education, work and a better life for their children."

. Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. Reuters/Leah Millis
Migrants struggle to cross the river from Guatemala to Mexico.

Leah Millis: "In this image, the young man holding the child looks so exhausted to me and you can see others clutching all their worldly possessions. To me this shows how desperate these people are. They are willing to cross rivers with strong currents, to lose any belongings they had, to struggle through the water with their children.

This was my first day working on the story. My colleague said we should keep an eye out for the group to start crossing the river because they had been stopped at the border gate, clashing with police the day before.

I saw them from afar, a large group of them creating a column crossing the river. I started running to get to them. I ran through a number of hammocks and past police and many onlookers. Finally, I got to them and I waded into the river with the migrants jumping in from the Guatemala side. There were police sirens blaring as Mexican police formed up on the opposite shore, waiting for the caravan.

A helicopter from the police flew by and dusted them all for minutes, spraying them with dust and water, blowing people around. The whole situation had an impact on me. We found a woman who was eight months pregnant. It's the people with the children and the elderly that stay with me.

It's very hot, the sun is intense, hydration and keeping your feet in order are the two major challenges. But we are lucky, we have access to proper shoes, equipment, water and food. Whereas the migrants don't. I normally work in the White House. It was strange to capture the U.S. president talking about these people and then seeing them in person a few days later."

. Agua Caliente, Guatemala. Reuters/Jorge Cabrera
Honduran migrants hike in the forest after crossing the Lempa river.

Jorge Cabrera: "A Honduran family with the father in front, a mother with child, and an aunt, carrying all their belongings, scramble up a hill in the jungle after crossing the Lempa river from Honduras into Guatemala.

The family, part of a group of some 150 migrants fleeing violence and poverty back home, decided to wade across the river after seeing that Honduran authorities had formed a human wall, blocking the border crossing.

For me this image underscores the fact that you can get as far as your feet will take you.

I traveled with the caravan of migrants for nine days. When there was downtime they played cards. If there was a soccer ball, they kicked it around. They took turns to bathe at the shelters. Sometimes there wasn't enough food to go around for everyone. But some kind-hearted soul would come through and donate cheese tortillas, instant soups or some other meal. When they were on the move, they always walked in groups.

A few short kilometres after crossing the river and climbing the hill, their journey was abruptly cut short by Guatemalan authorities. One by one, men, women and children were boarded onto buses and trucks and sent back to Honduras.

After they were deported, I never heard from the family again.

This experience showed me that the idea of fighting for the chance at a better life, the desire for well-being cannot be stamped out no matter what walls are thrown up. Their journey goes on and on."

. Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. Reuters/Adrees Latif
Luis Acosta holds 5-year-old Angel Jesus as they cross the Suchiate River.

Adrees Latif: "For the past nine days, I had been following a caravan of over 7,000 migrants from Central America who were making their way north after crossing the Guatemala-Mexico border.

Instead of trying to attempt another gate crossing, the migrants had moved towards the Suchiate River to try to cross. Most of the migrants had already made it to the Mexican side of the river and were resting and drying their clothes along the bank.

In the river, dozens of migrant men had locked arms to make a snake-like human cordon from the Guatemalan side to Mexico, so no-one would get swept by its powerful pull.

With one camera in hand and a 35 mm lens, I broke into the cordon to photograph the last group of migrants crossing. A family that had made it to the middle of the river was handing their children to other men to help them reach the shore. As a man grabbed the boy in front of me, I followed him, photographing, as he carried him to safety.

Moments later, the last set of migrants crossed, and the men who had locked hands in the cordon all swam towards Mexico and started celebrating that the caravan had made it.

This photograph begs the question: why would a family leave home and not only risk their own lives but also the lives of their children by doing such extraordinary things? What propels someone to walk without knowing where they will next break bread or quench their thirst? It also reminds me of the poem "Home" by Warsan Shire that starts: "No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark."

. Moyuta, Guatemala. Reuters/Jose Cabezas
People board a pick-up truck to hitchhike along the highway.

Jose Cabezas: "I've seen a lot of children in the caravan, and in every boy and girl, I couldn't help but see the face of my own six-year-old son. I could feel the parents' fear, the frustration of not being able to give them a decent life.

While trying to reach a caravan of Salvadoran migrants in the early hours of Nov. 1, we found a group of migrants sleeping on the side of the road. At dawn they started walking, hoping to get a lift. Eventually a small pickup stopped, and the driver said that he was only going to take mothers with children.

At that moment I could see the uncertainty on the faces of the children who did not know what was happening. There were lots of dramas playing out. One woman was traveling to the United States with her two children of 11 and 1 1/2.

She told me she only had $10 to reach the U.S. border, where she hoped to get a better job to provide for her children's future. There was talk about President Trump's threats to cut aid to El Salvador. Many said: "Let him take it away, at the end of the day, none of us benefit from the aid anyway."

I've worked on migration since the start of my career. In El Salvador, it's been a constant theme in the country's history. Many people flee because of the social problems and political violence. But we haven't seen anything like this since the civil war in the 1980s."