Warn the others before they make the trip.
Daniel Rodríguez 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 go back to San Pedro Sula, part of a group of three dozen Central Americans traveling from Tijuana back to their 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 some 6,000 migrants who arrived in the state last fall have returned, said Rodulfo Figueroa, who heads the Baja California office of Mexico’s National Migration Institute. The great majority, more than 90 percent, have done so voluntarily, he said.
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 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 simply sent back, but given support on the journey, 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 Jesús 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.
“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 some 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 late Monday from Tijuana, arriving hours later in Tapachula in southern Mexico near the Guatemalan border. From there, they took land transportation to their final destinations in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. By Thursday, all were all safely back home.
On the day of their departure, their bags bulged with donated clothes to take home. As a steady rain fell outside the Padre Chava shelter near the U.S. border fence, they hungrily down plates of rice and beef — their last warm meal before the journey home. Their feelings ranged from anger to sadness to resignation at the prospect of returning to the places they had fled. Some said they felt a measure of relief.