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False Rumors In Tijuana Motivate Some Migrants To Turn Back

Maria del Carmen Mejía signs up to go back to Honduras while in Tijuana, Nov....

Photo by Jean Guerrero

Above: Maria del Carmen Mejía signs up to go back to Honduras while in Tijuana, Nov. 26, 2018.

False rumors have spread in Tijuana's cramped migrant camp since a march to the border on Sunday devolved into a chaotic scene with tear gas, contributing to dozens of migrants deciding to head back to Central America this week.

The specter of a child who allegedly died during the border clash — a death that did not occur — haunted the migrants and asylum-seekers, many of whom are fleeing violence at home and are accustomed to brutal killings.

People in the camp, a converted municipal sports complex, have been passing around spent tear gas canisters and condemning the imagined killing. Maria del Carmen Mejía, a Honduran woman, said she was heading back home with her two children due to the unfounded fear that President Trump would kill her children.

"Instead of letting the president kill my kids, better to have them die of hunger in Honduras," she said.

Mejía was signing up to return to Honduras at a booth set up outside of the camp by the International Organization for Migration, which has U.S. State Department funding to assist people with bus and plane tickets back to Central America.

Photo by Jean Guerrero

Tents are lined up in sports complex turned shelter in Tijuana by the border fence, Nov. 26, 2018.

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Other false rumors spreading through the camp included an alleged planned attack against the migrant camp by the Zetas cartel, which does not have territory in Tijuana, and an imagined impending raid by Mexico's immigration officials.

It's unclear how the rumors are starting. But activists like Alex Mensing of the migrant advocacy group Pueblo Sin Fronteras said informal efforts to counter rumors were being made, but that the lack of unity in the exodus since its arrival in Tijuana has made it difficult to send organized messages.

Olga Mendez, a Guatemalan woman, said she didn't feel safe in the camp because of all the rumors, which she said were motivating lots of people to go home.

"The fears are tearing us apart," she said.

All along the route to the U.S.-Mexico border, disillusioned migrants have been signing up to return home at stations set up by the International Organization for Migration in Guatemala and in southern and central Mexico. More than 400 migrants tied to caravans have gone home with the organization's help since Nov. 4.

Dozens of people from the Central American migrant exodus are heading back home, fueled in part by misinformation.

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