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Migrant caravan: branding migrants 'human shields' has a deadly motive

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The Heat: Migrants at the US-Mexico border Pt1 After a grueling month-long journey, thousands of migrants from Central America are making their way to the Mexican city of Tijuana. About 1700 migrants have ...
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Neve Gordon, Queen Mary University of London and Nicola Perugini, University of Edinburgh

The "migrant caravan" is making its way towards the US border -- and is facing countless obstacles and much opposition along the way. Most recently, protests erupted when a large group of the migrants reached the Mexican border town of Tijuana. Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump was quick to join the clamour, accusing them of causing "crime and big problems in Mexico":

The men, women and children in the caravan are traveling as a large group because in the past individuals and small groups who have fled central America to escape political violence or to find a better livelihood have been kidnapped by traffickers and drug gangs. Travelling en masse offers them a degree of protection.

US president Donald Trump has long lambasted the migrants. He first characterised them as "invaders", who sheltered among their ranks "unknown Middle Easterners". Later, Trump admitted that this thinly veiled attempt to portray the migrants as terrorists was not based on any "proof" but nevertheless went on to calm the public by declaring that the US military would be waiting for the caravan at the Mexican border. Initially announcing that he would send as many as 5,200 troops, he later upped this number to a possible 15,000 soldiers.

US secretary of state, Michael Pompeo, joined the bandwagon, warning the American people that the migrants are "putting women and children in front of this caravan to use as shields as they make their way through".

As if to add credibility to this claim, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) then released a factsheet stating that among the marchers are hundreds of individuals who "have criminal histories", and adding that, in Central America, they have put "women and children to the front to act as human shields as the caravan pushes against [the Guatemalan] military forces".

An old story

Interestingly, the president, secretary of state, and DHS did not pluck these allegations out of thin air. They are simply repeating claims made in a 2014 report published by the US right-wing Tea Party organisation.

The report described the movement of migrants as an "offensive whereby the southern borders of America are being swarmed", adding: "This offensive is an invasion, not led by troops, but by divisions of mothers, children and young adults marching north from Central America and Mexico". It went on:

Civilian women and children are directly marched into the target nation so that permanent settlement locations may be secured for more advancing insurgents. In effect, the civilians become political human shields for the insurgents coming in behind them, which are part of a much larger (and more dangerous) offensive.

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Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. Read about his new book, Israel's Occupation, and more at www.israelsoccupation.info
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