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'We're going to get killed in our countries': Migrant caravan members plea for their lives

In an open letter and a press conference, some of the migrants who remain in a Mexico shelter asked for a chance to seek asylum as a human right.
A migrant drinks water at the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 26, 2018.
A migrant drinks water at the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 26, 2018.Ramon Espinosa / AP

TIJUANA, Mexico — Some of the Central American migrants who remain in the Benito Juarez shelter, the largest one giving refuge to participants of the migrant caravan in Tijuana, came together on Tuesday to plea for their lives and demand that their human rights stopped being violated.

“Many of the people that partook in this journey, we have to continue trying [to come to the U.S.] because we’re going to get killed if we return to our countries,” read a joint statement from selected representatives of the migrant caravan. They call themselves the Éxodo Migratorio Centroamericano Por La Vida, which loosely translates to ‘For The Live Of Central American Migrants in the Exodus.’

They also made an impassioned case at a press conference at the shelter, reiterating that they face real danger if they go back.

It has been 46 days since these migrants left Central American countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Members of the caravan defended themselves from the backlash that ensued after a protest at the Tijuana-San Diego border turned violent and U.S. border authorities used tear gas.

“We were victims of the repression from the U.S. border patrol, they threw tear gas at us various times, the children were affected greatly and we were only walking because we wanted to be seen. We wanted to be recognized as a big group of people who wants to be heard so international laws can protect us as we migrate and seek better lives,” they said in the statement and later at the press conference.

The migrants requested a number of things, including that the U.S. speed up the process to seek asylum, that the incoming Mexican government create a commission willing to negotiate with the migrants who wish to stay and a stop to the “arbitrary, manipulated and involuntary deportations.” Additionally, they pleaded for solid information that could help them make better decisions and protect their lives.

"It's been hard leaving our countries and part of our families behind, exposing our children and walking through unknown places just to have the option of living in the United States or in any other country that offers us the opportunity to work honestly and offers a better future for our kids," the statement read.

The statement alludes to some of the violent conditions the migrants are fleeing in Central America.

The countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, already deal with the highest levels of violence worldwide. Their murder rates are three to eight times over what the World Health Organization considers to be epidemic levels, according to Amnesty International.

The Mexican government has set up tents to help migrants with humanitarian visas that would allow them to stay in Mexico legally and find work. Mexico's federal government said 600 migrants from the caravan have received such humanitarian visas, so far.

In the last few months, the Mexican government has deported 11,000 Central American migrants, including around 2,000 from the caravans.

Mexico is providing help to those who decide they are going to return to their countries of origin. According to Mexican authorities, 200 migrants asked to be self-deported. At least 81 people who were part of the caravan have decided to return to Honduras, according to NBC News’s Gadi Shwartz.

Authorities in Tijuana have detained at least 194 migrants. The group is asking that “human rights are present in every detention” and that the names of those who have been deported are released to the public.

Gadi Schwartz reported from Tijuana, Mexico. Nicole Acevedo and Daniella Silva reported from New York. Annie Rose Ramos reported from San Diego.