Thousands of migrants that are part of a caravan that departed San Pedro Sula in Honduras for the U.S. on October 13, 2018, are currently in southern Mexico. As the caravan attempts to cross Mexico, the risk increases for any journalists accompanying it.
Based on previous caravans, numbers may dwindle and individuals may take different routes to get to the U.S. However, migrants can be vulnerable to criminals and cartels--who kidnap, extort, and force vulnerable groups into prostitution and illegal activities--as well as law enforcement and migration officials. Human traffickers known as "Coyotes" are likely to be in close proximity to the caravan. The risk of physical violence and rape is high for migrants. Journalists accompanying them, particularly the local press, are potentially also exposed.
Journalists who plan on following a migratory route should research the groups controlling the route and conduct risk assessments accordingly.
The Zetas criminal network is one of the most active in terms of targeting migrants and represents a significant threat to anyone operating in areas under its control. Cartel control can be fluid and areas that are contested by different groups will be particularly prone to violence. As a general indicator of cartel areas of dominance, journalists should consult this BBC map or InsightCrime, which provides updates about organized crime in Mexico and Latin America.
Journalists could also be impacted by migration police and authorities involved in Mexico's Southern Border plan to restrict migration. Numerous checkpoints along major routes have been set up and journalists are likely to be stopped and identification requested. Migrants are vulnerable to corruption from local law enforcement, according to reports. Journalists could also be at risk from corrupt officials.
At least one journalist has been injured during clashes between migrants and officials. A Twitter post said that Mexican journalist Maria de Jesús Peters was injured during a clash between migrants and the Mexican federal police on a border bridge between Guatemala and Mexico on October 19, 2018.
Journalists should be aware of the potential for clashes at the U.S. border between migrants and border authorities. Journalists should weigh the benefit of bringing personal protective equipment, which can be bulky to transport. Journalists without protective equipment who are covering civil disorder should carefully consider their positioning. For more information about covering protests, consult CPJ's guides.
Mexican authorities have attempted to prevent migrants from using a freight train known as La Bestia. Mexican police have strictly enforced a ban on climbing on trains, and there is increased police presence near railway stations or where trains traditionally slow down, according to reports. Any journalist attempting to ride a train should be aware that this is a high risk activity with the potential of injury or even death. Riding the train for long periods increases the risk of being preyed on by criminals who target migrants. In recent years, freight trains have derailed in areas where mudslides are common, resulting in injuries and a number of deaths.
Logistical and environmental challenges to consider
ATM machines are scarce in rural Mexico, and journalists should ensure that they have an adequate supply of money in small denominations.
Current weather conditions in southern Mexico are hot, with considerable rain. Depending on the route, terrain can alter significantly from jungle to desert. Having the correct clothing and good walking shoes is essential. Reporters visiting those areas should be wary of mudslides and other natural disasters caused by rain and erosion.
Journalists traveling with the migrants should ensure they have the correct vaccinations and a first aid or medical kit. Water purification tablets or a clean supply of water should be sourced and journalists should carry anti-diarrhea medication and mosquito repellent.
Driving and accommodation
Driving standards are low and road traffic accidents are common in southern Mexico. Driving at night is more dangerous. It is difficult to find taxis or drivers and vehicles are poorly maintained and frequently do not have seatbelts. Where possible, journalists should organize vehicles in advance. Many migrants are jumping on trucks, but that increases the risk of injury.
Journalists should book hotels in advance as rooms are limited. Where possible, they should look for reputable hotel chains, rather than small independent accommodation that could be targeted by criminals.
Journalists traveling in a private vehicle should be aware that it can take a long time for road breakdown support to arrive in rural Mexico. Ambulances also take significantly longer to arrive at the location of an accident.
Phone signal will be patchy in certain areas. Journalists should consider having a portable Wi-Fi router.
A number of U.S. journalists covering the caravan have reported receiving online harassment over their coverage, particularly on Twitter or via email. Information on digital security can be found in the Technology Security chapter of CPJ's Journalist Security Guide, and in a list of digital security resources in our Resource Center.
Journalists requiring assistance can contact CPJ via [email protected].
CPJ's Journalist Security Guide has additional information on basic preparedness and assessing and responding to risk. CPJ's resource center has additional information and tools for pre-assignment preparation and post-incident assistance.