Agua Caliente, Guatemala / Honduras – It was midnight when Kenia Sánchez left. The border was closed, so sticking to the road was not an option.
Sanchez, her partner and their young daughter left Ocotepeque, Honduras on foot at 2 am and arrived at the migrant shelter on the border of Esquipulas, Guatemala, shortly before noon on Monday.
"There was no way to get through it, we went to the jungle," Sanchez told Al Jazeera, his feet blistered resting on worn shoes. "We went through a forest, we crossed rivers."
Sanchez, 30, and his family are among several groups of Hondurans trying to head north, following in the footsteps of thousands of migrants and refugees who made the trip last week. Most say they are fleeing from unemployment and violence, but some told Al Jazeera that they are fleeing political persecution and other targeted threats.
The initial wave, dubbed a caravan of migrants, now has more than 5,000 participants and is making its way into southern Mexico.
|Honduran migrants walk in the forest after crossing the Lempa River, on the border between Honduras and Guatemala, to join a caravan trying to reach the United States. [Jorge Cabrera/Reuters]|
The president of the United States, Donald Trump, increased his threats against the Central American countries on Monday, and tweeted that the United States would begin to cut or substantially reduce aid to the region. He also said that has put the US military and the Border Patrol on alert.
In the midst of the threats, the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico fortified parts of their borders, deployed police and military forces and detained or returned migrants and refugees.
Some of these measures violate international law or risk doing so, according to human rights groups and international agencies.
& # 39; Trump calls are illegal & # 39;
On Sunday, Trump tweeted that people should first seek asylum in Mexico, "and if they do not, the US will reject them."
"The courts are asking the United States to do things that are not feasible!" he said.
But there is no obligation to seek asylum first in Mexico, say legal experts and human rights organizations, and to demand that Central Americans do so would violate international law.
"Congress adopted the 1980 Refugee Act to align the United States with its obligations to protect refugees under international law," a US-based group, Human Rights First, wrote in a statement Monday discrediting Several of Trump's tweets about the migrant caravan.
"The United States is obliged to provide protection to people fleeing persecution, including asylum seekers, who are entitled to a screening interview to determine if they have a credible fear of persecution," the group wrote.
|Migrants from Honduras expect to be served by Mexican immigration authorities on a bridge that spans the Suchiate River, which connects Guatemala and Mexico, in Tecún Uman, Guatemala. [Oliver de Ros/AP Photo]|
For those planning to seek asylum in Mexico, Amnesty says they are essentially detained in areas that the authorities describe as a refuge.
More than 1,000 people have already done so, Madeleine Penman, an Amnesty International Mexico researcher based in Mexico City, told Al Jazeera by telephone.
"At this stage they are applying a mandatory detention regime to [those] who even asks for asylum, "he said. So they have made available a shelter for the members of the caravan. However, the reality of the refuge is that it functions as a detention center. "
Once people are inside, the only ways they can leave are deportation or a stay of weeks or months, Writer additional.
"The Mexican government has shown itself to be a routine violation of international law in the past by returning every year to thousands of people who could risk their lives in countries like Honduras," he said.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto issued a statement on Friday, declaring that "like any other sovereign country, Mexico does not allow or allow entry to its territory in an irregular manner, much less in a violent manner," referring to the initial group of caravans on Friday, when thousands of people passed the fences, resulting in a confrontation with police, who used tear gas against the crowd.
"The members of the caravan can request entry in accordance with the manners established by our laws and international law," said Peña Nieto.
The National Institute of Immigration of Mexico did not respond to Al Jazeera repeated requests for comments.
In Guatemala, the participants of the caravans were stopped by the police checkpoints.
The suspects of migrants and refugees are asked to show a small piece of paper that grants permission to enter from the Guatemalan immigration authorities. Many do not have the official document since the Guatemalan immigration control center at the Agua Caliente border crossing closed last Tuesday, opened again on Thursday and has since closed.
Hondurans who can not present the small document are transported back to the Honduran side of the border, where the police prevent their departure from the country, more than a dozen migrants, refugees, police and local taxi drivers confirmed to Al Jazeera.
The Honduran government announced on Saturday that its immigration control point at the Agua Caliente border crossing will be closed until further notice. The measure was due to a "crisis caused by sectors alien to national interests," the National Immigration Institute of Honduras said in a statement.
Days before the immigration checkpoint was closed, the Honduran police blocked the exit for those seeking to flee, using force to prevent their departure.
|Immigrants from Honduras stand in front of Honduran police who block access to the Agua Caliente border with Guatemala when they try to join a caravan of migrants heading to the United States [Jorge Cabrera/Reuters]|
On both sides of the border there has been a strong presence of security forces.
Guatemalan soldiers were also in the area, as were the Jeep J8 vehicles, donated by the United States, which belong to a working group of the border region.
On the Honduran side, members of the TIGRES and Rurales special police forces trained in the United States were placed with riot gear on the road, verifying the identification of the pedestrians they had missed because they were Guatemalan locals heading to their homes . A handful of Honduran soldiers were also nearby.
According to a general of the Honduran police force, there were about 200 police and special forces resting nearby.
Additional forces were sent after the incident on Saturday, when hundreds of people and a semi-trailer crossed the police lines after they were banned from leaving their country. Honduran police do not allow migrants and refugees to cross into Guatemala.
"This blockade of the border between Honduras and Guatemala is unprecedented and violates international law," Penman told Al Jazeera.
|Honduran migrants show their identification to an official near the Agua Caliente border, hoping to cross into Guatemala and join a caravan trying to reach the United States. [Jorge Cabrera/Reuters]|
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in contact with different leaders in the region over the weekend, Assistant Secretary General Farhan Haq said at a daily press conference on Monday.
"The thing [Guterres] has insisted on the need for leaders to work with the International Organization for Migration, IOM and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. He believes that this situation should be treated in accordance with international law and with full respect for the rights of countries to manage their own borders, "said Haq.
Article 13 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to freedom of movement and also states that "everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own," Penman said.
Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua make up the C4 region, and have border, immigration and customs agreements. It is assumed that citizens of four countries have freedom of movement within the region using their national identification cards, without passport or visa requirements.
"Honduras can not act as a closed country at this time, Guatemala can not undertake the illegal return of people whose lives are at risk," Penman said.
Al Jazeera contacted the spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior of Guatemala, which governs the national police force, as well as the presidential spokesperson, but none responded to the requests for comments at the time of its publication. Al Jazeera also tried to communicate with Honduran officials, but they were not immediately available for comment.
Humanitarian responses are needed.
According to Penman, humanitarian, human rights and solidarity responses from the governments of Central America and Mexico are needed.
"We do not need these governments to be intimidated by Trump right now, we also ask the US Congress to block the illegal decisions that Trump can make," he said.
But more than 5,000 kilometers by road from Washington, DC, migrants and refugees like Kenya Sanchez face the consequences of the pressure from the United States on the Central American governments to close the caravan.
We do not need these governments to feel intimidated by Trump at this time. We also ask the United States Congress to block the illegal decisions that Trump can make.
Madeleine Penman, Amnesty International
In the refuge of the House of the Migrant Joseph in Esquipulas, Sanchez rested his feet, taking care of his daughter of a year and a half. She and her family had no choice but to leave their home in the department of Olancho, in eastern Honduras, he said.
"Sometimes we do not eat, there's no work," he said, adding that his partner has been threatened by members of criminal gangs when he visited relatives in the capital.
Before a border closure, Sanchez and his family have a day walking. There are police and immigration checkpoints along the highway heading north, so for now they plan to wait for more Hondurans to join them before leaving again.