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Some Central American migrants go home as thousands push north in new caravan

Late afternoon on Tuesday, an official from the International Organization for Migration gives transportation instructions to the group of 32-men and three women at the Desayunador Salesiano Padre Chava shelter in Tijuana, Mexico that have volunteered to return back to their home countries. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)
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Daniel Rodriguez Perdomo endured cold, hunger, sickness, fear and loneliness as he joined thousands of Central Americans who made their way to the Tijuana-San Diego border last fall.

But even with cousins in Tijuana and a job at a car wash, the 24-year-old migrant went back to Honduras last week, unwilling to stay in Mexico and abandoning any immediate hopes of crossing to the United States.

“I feel so alone here, I miss my family, my friends, I don’t feel good,” he said as he prepared to return to San Pedro Sula, part of a group of three dozen Central Americans traveling from Tijuana back to their home countries under a program run by the International Organization for Migration.

As thousands of Central American migrants continue to move north in the third large caravan in less than a year, a smaller but steady flow has been going in the opposite direction.

Even after making the arduous journey to Baja California, close to 1,300 members of the group of about 6,000 migrants who arrived in the state last fall have returned home, said Rodulfo Figueroa, who heads the Baja California office of Mexico’s National Migration Institute. More than 90 percent have done so voluntarily, he said.

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The largest numbers have gone back after turning themselves over to the Mexican government. But a smaller group has received assistance from the International Organization for Migration, under a program financed by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Through Jan. 15, the IOM’s Mexico office had carried out 520 assisted returns, with 127 of them from Tijuana.

Most first came into contact with the IOM at El Barretal, the provisional shelter run by the Mexican federal government in eastern Tijuana. Before they were accepted, they were interviewed to ensure that they do not face danger back home. They also needed travel documents from their home countries, and documentation from Mexican authorities.

“Some people have come to the realization that this did not meet their expectation, or perhaps they have a family situation that calls them back home,” said Christopher Gascon, who heads the IOM’s office in Mexico City.

The migrants are not just sent back. They get support on their journeys, including meals and psychological assistance.

“They are fully accompanied all the way through,” Gascon said. By traveling with the IOM, “one of the big differences is that there is no detention, no presence in a migratory station,” he said.

Nelson Jesus Ceballo, 18, said he joined last October’s caravan in hopes of finding work in the United States and sending money home to his mother and four siblings in the Copan region of Honduras.

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“That was the dream, but things got complicated,” he said. Like many, he realized that crossing to the United States would not be easy. The final straw came New Year’s Day, he said, when a group of about 150 migrants urged on by U.S. activists rushed the border fence and were met with tear gas.

“They sent the gas toward all of us, even children,” he said. “I didn’t like it, I told my cousin that I don’t want to cross here.”

Ceballo was among the latest IOM group made up of 32 men and three women who boarded an Aeromexico flight Jan. 14 from Tijuana, arriving hours later in Tapachula in southern Mexico near the Guatemalan border. From there, they took land transportation to their destinations in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. By Thursday, all were all safely back home.

While many caravan members have said they fear for their lives back in their countries, members of this group said it was poverty and lack of opportunity that drove them out.

Rodriguez was living with his father in Rivera Hernandez, a high-crime area of San Pedro Sula, but said he had managed to stay away from gangs. He had a job at a T-shirt factory, where he earned just over $61 a week.

A cousin urged him to join the caravan. “People told me that crossing would be easy,” he said. For 10 days, “I was thinking and thinking and thinking, and when the moment came, I didn’t want to go, but my cousin said, ‘we’ll help you, we’ll cross together’,” he said. “But then I saw it wasn’t so.”

Luis Enrique Rodriguez, a 36-year-old laborer from Guatemala, said he had been thinking for years about working in the United States. “I’d see people coming from there build their houses and purchase their own land,” he said. “And I don’t have my own house or my own land.”

On the journey to the border “there was a moment I thought I couldn’t go on,” he said. “But at no moment did I think of going back.”

But once at the border, he realized how difficult it would be to make it across. He said tried three times to cross through an opening in the border fence in eastern Tijuana. The moment he stepped across, he was met by U.S. Border Patrol agents and U.S. soldiers, he said. “No America, no America,” they shouted, and he stepped back into Mexico.

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© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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