About 1,000 migrants decide to pause their march, hoping to get some sort of temporary exit visa while 2,000 others continue their walk in US direction.

Venezuelans make up a large proportion of migrants' caravan, the biggest of the year, in contrast to previous ones.
Venezuelans make up a large proportion of migrants' caravan, the biggest of the year, in contrast to previous ones. (AP)

A group of migrants that once numbered as many as 5,000 have split about whether to keep walking through southern Mexico toward the US border.

A group of about 2,000 mainly younger male migrants set out walking on Thursday from the southern town of Huixtla. But about 1,000 migrants, mainly families with children, decided to wait in Huixtla to see if they could get some sort of temporary exit visa. 

The families were tired after walking some 40 kilometres since departing the city of Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border, on Monday.

The goal of almost all migrants is to reach the US border. 

But none of the migrant caravans that have crossed Mexico starting in 2018 have ever walked all the way to the border, which is over 1,600 km to the north.

While some caravan participants reached the border in the past, it was due to bus or car rides — which the government now tries to prevent.

Some of the migrants who apparently already got papers in Huixtla seemed to have left by their own means; with the exit visas. They may be able to take buses or taxis.

Venezuelan migrant Junior Ramirez was still waiting for papers with about 15 members of his extended family at a National Immigration Institute post outside Huixtla, where the migrants slept in the open air on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Luis Garcia Villagran, a migrant advocate traveling with the caravan, said Mexican authorities have been giving out the equivalent of exit visas, which give migrants between one and three months to leave the country.

READ MORE: Mexico caravan migrants get visas as they trek toward US

Venezuelans make large chunk of migrants

Theoretically, a migrant carrying such papers will either request asylum or leave Mexico — presumably over the US border — and wouldn't be sent back to their home country.

Venezuelans make up a large proportion of this caravan, the biggest of the year, in contrast to previous ones. A factor appears to be a policy change implemented by Mexico in January requiring Venezuelans to acquire a visa to enter the country.

Before that change, Venezuelans had flown to Mexico City or Cancun as tourists and then made their way comfortably to the border. Many made it from home to the US border in as little as four days.

The Mexican visa requirement drove the flow of Venezuelans into the shadows. Those traveling in the caravan are just the visible sign of who is traveling through Mexico out of public view. Many other Venezuelans have likely turned to smugglers.

Encounters with Venezuelans at the southwest border plunged from 22,779 in January to 3,073 in February, according to US Customs and Border Protection. In April, the most recent month available, there were 4,103 encounters.

But the flow of Venezuelan migrants has continued. Since January, more than half of the 34,000 migrants who crossed the treacherous Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama were Venezuelans, according to Panama’s National Migration Service.

READ MORE: In the US, migrants more likely to start businesses and create jobs

Migrant smuggling 

Trying to avoid the dangerous, jungle-shrouded Darien Gap, some migrant smugglers have apparently begun offering a sea route into Panama.

Security officials in Panama said on Thursday they had caught eight Colombian smugglers carrying 92 migrants — including Venezuelans and Ecuadorans, among them 12 minors — on Panama's Caribbean coast.

Recently, the Mexican government has dissolved other caravans by offering to move migrants to other cities where they could legalize their status more quickly. In some cases, the government has tried to tire the migrants out by preventing passing trucks and buses from giving them rides.

Finding consensus on managing migration flows in the region was a top priority for representatives meeting this week at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.

READ MORE: Mexico vows to 'protect' border in bid to stop US-bound migrants

Source: AP