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Migrants bound for the US-Mexico border wait on a bridge that stretches over the Suchiate River, connecting Guatemala and Mexico, in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, Oct. 19, 2018. The gated entry into Mexico via the bridge has been closed.
Oliver de Ros/AP
Citizenship

UN Refugee Agency Staff Will Help 'Caravan' Migrants Make Asylum Claims

GENEVA — More than 45 UN refugee staff have arrived in Tapachulas, Chiapas State, Mexico — and others are on their way. Job one is to stabilize a chaotic situation with more than 7,000 people in a migrant caravan on the march toward the United States.

The UNHCR says conditions on the ground appear to be somewhat calmer and more orderly than in previous days.

But that could change according to UNHCR spokesman, Adrian Edwards.

"Of particular concern for us at the moment is the developing humanitarian situation among this group, with many people having food, water, health and other needs," Edwards said. "There is also a kidnapping and security risks in areas the caravan may venture into. Stabilizing the situation is, therefore, urgent."

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The UNHCR teams are also going to register asylum seekers, identifying those who are particularly vulnerable with specific needs as a way of streamlining the process.

So far, about 1,000 people have sought asylum in Mexico, Edwards says. But, he adds thousands more are likely to continue on toward the United States — and many of them will be seeking asylum.

According to international law, individuals fleeing persecution and violence must be given access to the country where they are seeking asylum and the right to apply for it.

So the UNHCR is also going to be safeguarding migrants' rights.

"All countries have a right to be able to manage their own immigration and manage their own borders," Edwards told VOA. "What is important for us is that those borders are managed in an asylum sensitive way, which means giving people access, assessing their claims and then dealing with them accordingly in line with international law."

But President Donald Trump has vowed to prevent the caravan of refugees and migrants from crossing US borders.

"We got to stop them at the border," he said Monday during a pool spray in front of the White House, and then, "Guess what? We're not allowing them in our country."

To Trump, the migrants are "an assault on our country." He has threatened to cut off foreign aid to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala if they do not stop people from migrating "illegally" to the United States.

Read More: 8 "Caravan" Migrants Admitted to US to Make Cases for Asylum

The United Nations refugee agency said it has 32 workers in Mexico to provide humanitarian assistance to the migrants and legal advice, with its local partners offering asylum information to those who want to stay.

The Red Cross said Saturday that many of the people, including a large number of women and children it is helping along the caravan route, are suffering from dehydration, stomach infections and foot injuries.