Migrants Get Cool Reception in Mexican Border Town

Many of the nearly 3,000 Central American migrants who have reached the Mexican border with California via caravan said Saturday that they didn’t feel welcome in Tijuana, where hundreds more migrants were headed after more than a month on the road. 

The vast majority were camped at an outdoor sports complex, sleeping on a dirt baseball field and under bleachers with a view of the steel walls topped by barbed wire at the newly reinforced U.S.-Mexico border. The city opened the complex after other shelters were filled. Church groups provided portable showers, bathrooms and sinks. The federal government estimated the migrant crowd in Tijuana could swell to 10,000. 

Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum has called the migrants’ arrival an “avalanche” that the city is ill-prepared to handle, calculating that they will be in Tijuana for at least six months as they wait to file asylum claims. U.S. border inspectors are processing only about 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana’s main crossing to San Diego. Asylum-seekers register their names in a tattered notebook managed by migrants themselves that had more than 3,000 names even before the caravan arrived. 

While many in Tijuana are sympathetic to the migrants’ plight and are trying to assist, some locals have shouted insults, hurled rocks and even thrown punches at the migrants. 

It’s a stark contrast to the many Mexican communities that welcomed the caravan with signs, music and donations of clothing after it entered Mexico nearly a month ago. Countless residents of rural areas pressed fruit and bags of water into the migrants’ hands as they passed through southern Mexico, wishing them safe journeys. 

Alden Rivera, the Honduran ambassador in Mexico, visited the outdoor sports complex Saturday. Rivera expects the migrants will need to be sheltered for eight months or more, and said he was working with Mexico to get more funds to feed and care for them. He expects the migrant numbers in Tijuana to reach 3,400 over the weekend, with another 1,200 migrants having made it to Mexicali, another border city a few hours east of Tijuana. An additional 1,500 migrants plan to reach the U.S. border region next week. 

Rivera said 1,800 Hondurans have returned to their country since the caravan first set out on Oct. 13, and that he hoped more would make that decision. 

“We want them to return to Honduras,” Rivera said, adding that each migrant must weigh whether to go home, appeal for asylum in Mexico or wait in line to apply for asylum in the U.S. 

The Mexican Interior Ministry said Friday that 2,697 Central American migrants had requested asylum in Mexico under a program that the country launched on Oct. 26 to more quickly get them credentials needed to live, work and study in southern Mexico. 

Ivis Munoz, 26, has considered returning to Honduras. The coffee farmer called his father in Atima, Honduras, on Saturday to consult on his next move a few days after being attacked on a beach by locals in Tijuana. His father told him to stick it out. 

Munoz has a bullet in his leg. A gang member shot him a year ago in Honduras and threatened to kill him if he saw him again. Munoz said he found out later his girlfriend had been cheating on him with the gang member. 

He’s afraid to go home but feels unwelcome in Tijuana. 

Munoz was asleep on a beach in Tijuana with about two dozen other migrants when rocks came raining down on them around 2 a.m. Wednesday. He heard a man shout in the darkness: “We don’t want you here! Go back to your country!”  

Munoz and the others got up and ran for cover, heading toward residential streets nearby. As the sun rose, they hitched a ride on a passing truck to Tijuana’s downtown. Now he is staying at the sports complex. 

“I don’t know what to do,” said Munoz. He fears the U.S. won’t grant him asylum, and that he’ll get deported if he tries to cross into the country without authorization. 

Carlos Padilla, 57, a migrant from Progreso, Honduras, said a Tijuana resident shouted “migrants are pigs” as he passed on the street recently. He did not respond.  

“We didn’t come here to cause problems, we came here with love and with the intention to ask for asylum,” Padilla said. “But they treat us like animals here.” 

Padilla said he would most likely return to Honduras if the U.S. rejected his asylum request. 

The migrants’ expected long stay in Tijuana has raised concerns about the ability of the border city of more than 1.6 million to handle the influx. 

Tijuana officials said they converted the municipal gymnasium and recreational complex into a shelter to keep migrants out of public spaces. The city’s privately run shelters have a maximum capacity of 700. The municipal complex can hold up to 3,000; as of Friday night, there were 2,397 migrants there. 

Some business owners near the shelter complained Saturday of migrants panhandling and stealing. 

Francisco Lopez, 50, owns a furniture store nearby. He said a group of migrants took food from a small grocery a few doors down, and he worries that crime in the area will rise the longer the migrants stay at the shelter. 

Other neighbors expressed empathy. 

“These poor people have left their country and they’re in an unfamiliar place,” said Maria de Jesus Izarraga, 68, who lives two blocks from complex. 

As Izarraga spoke from her home’s front door, a man interrupted to ask for money to buy a plate of beans. He said he came with the caravan and had blisters on his feet. She gave him some pesos, and continued speaking: “I hope this all works out in the best possible way.” 

Outside the complex, lines of migrants snaked along the street to receive donations of clothes and coolers full of bottled water being dropped off by charity groups and others looking to help the migrants. 

Felipe Garza, 55, acknowledged that many in his hometown don’t want to help as he and other volunteers from his church handed migrants coffee and rolls at the impromptu municipal shelter. “It’s uncomfortable to receive such a big multitude of people, but it’s a reality that we have to deal with,” he said. 

Garza surmised that if the Central Americans behave, Tijuana will embrace them just as it did thousands of Haitians in 2016. Those Haitians have since opened restaurants and hair salons and enrolled in local universities. 

Police officer Victor Coronel agreed but wondered how much more the city can take. “The only thing we can do is hope that President [Donald] Trump opens his heart a little,” said Coronel. 

Trump, who sought to make the caravan a campaign issue in last week’s elections, took to Twitter on Friday to aim new criticism at the migrants. 

“Isn’t it ironic that large Caravans of people are marching to our border wanting U.S.A. asylum because they are fearful of being in their country — yet they are proudly waving … their country’s flag. Can this be possible? Yes, because it is all a BIG CON, and the American taxpayer is paying for it,” Trump said in a pair of tweets. 

Arab Media: Airstrikes in Syria Kill IS Fighters, Relatives

The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that U.S.-led coalition airstrikes killed more than 40 people in the village of Abu Husn in the region of Deir el-Zor, near the Iraqi border.

Arab media announced the deaths of several dozen people, most of whom appeared to have been Islamic State group fighters, during bitter fighting in the Deir el-Zor region of eastern Syria, not far from the Iraqi border.

Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that about three dozen Islamic State fighters were killed in the airstrikes on the village of Abu Husn. A number of civilians and family members of the IS fighters also were killed.

Abdel Rahman insisted that “it was the highest death toll in coalition airstrikes since (U.S.-aligned Kurdish fighters) launched their attack against this (particular northeastern Syrian) Islamic State pocket in September.

U.S. Coalition spokesman Sean Ryan told the French news agency earlier this week “the avoidance of civilian casualties is our highest priority when conducting strikes against legitimate military targets with precision munitions.”

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, tells VOA that bad weather conditions in recent days have allowed IS fighters to gain ground against the U.S.-led alliance of Kurdish SDF fighters, alongside U.S. and French forces, prompting strong efforts to push them back.

He says that the final pockets of Islamic State fighters have taken advantage of poor weather conditions (and cloud cover) to capture positions and equipment belonging to the U.S. coalition, prompting fierce fighting in an effort to recapture lost ground.

Abou Diab says the Islamic State pocket in the region of Deir el-Zour is one of several he says are supported by different countries involved in the Syria conflict. He argues that a separate Islamic State faction, supported by the Syrian government, has been involved in attacking Druze civilians and holding them hostage in the southern region of Sweida.

Trump Defends Deployment of US Troops Sent to Southern Border

U.S. President Donald Trump again defended sending U.S. troops to the southern border with Mexico, questioning the migrants’ motives for making the perilous journey, citing a strong U.S. economy.

Speaking with reporters at the White House House Saturday morning before departing for California to tour the devastation from wildfires burning in the state, the president said, “Yeah, we have a tremendous military force in the south, on the border, on the southern border. We have large numbers of people trying to get into our country. I must say the reason it’s increased so much is because we’re doing so well as opposed to the rest of the world. And if you look at south of our border, it’s not doing so well.

“But regardless, we have millions of people on line to get into our country legally, and those people have preference. They have to have preference. They’ve been waiting for a long time, they’ve done it legally.”

 

Trump continued, “They’re coming up and they’re talking about, oh, their great fear, oh, their problems with their country, but they’re all waving their country’s flag. What is that all about? If they have such fear and such problems and they hate their country, why do we see all the flags being waved for Guatemala, for Honduras, for El Salvador? We’re seeing flags all over the place. Why are they waving flags? This has nothing to do with asylum, this has to do with getting into our country illegally. And we have to know who wants to come into our country.”

The number of U.S. troops on the border with Mexico has reached its upper limit, top Pentagon officials said earlier this week.  

More than 5,800 active duty and 2,100 National Guard troops are currently deployed to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection strengthen barriers, build housing, operate aircraft and other activities intended to help the U.S. Border Patrol.  Earlier this week, President Trump said the force might be larger.   

“We’re pretty much peaked in terms of the number of people that are down there,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon.

The troops were sent to the U.S. southern border at the request of the Department of Homeland Security. Shanahan said the troops may stay through Dec. 15. The military is legally prohibited from domestic law enforcement, such as arresting migrants crossing the border. 

 

In the meantime, several hundred Central American migrants arrived midweek in the Mexican border city of Tijuana after a month of traveling away from poverty and violence at home, in hopes of entering the United States.

About 800 migrants are now in Tijuana. Many said they would stay there and wait for the rest of their caravan to arrive and for leaders to advise them of their options for seeking asylum in the United States.Some of the early arrivals went to the border fence to celebrate.

The migrants in Tijuana got a generally warm greeting from locals, but some were met with hostility from an upper middle-class beach neighborhood.

Residents shouted, “You’re not welcome!” and “Get out!” to a group of about 100 Central Americans. Police kept the two sides apart. One protester said the hostility had nothing to do with race, but with safety.

A Tijuana city official said the city is not prepared for such a large number of arrivals. Most migrant shelters are already full. The official said she hopes the Mexican federal government will offer the migrants asylum and jobs.

The bulk of the migrant caravan of about 4,000 people, mostly Honduras, is making its way through the state of Sonora and is expected to arrive soon in Tijuana.

The San Ysidro port linking Tijuana to the U.S. city of San Diego, is the busiest crossing on the border. But it only processes about 100 asylum claims per day, meaning those in the caravan who seek that route face a long wait.

Trump has sharply criticized the caravans, casting them as a “national emergency.”He signed a proclamation last week declaring migrants who enter the country illegally ineligible for asylum.That goes against federal laws stating anyone is eligible for asylum, no matter how he or she entered the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups quickly filed a legal challenge and sought an injunction against the new rules while the case makes its way through the courts.A federal judge has set a hearing on the injunction for Nov. 19.

In addition to the caravan at or nearing the border, two others have made their way to Mexico City with more than 2,000 people.

Mexico said last week it had issued about 2,700 temporary visas to individuals and families, allowing them to work while their refugee applications proceed.

VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this story.

Climate Change Protesters Block off 5 London Bridges

Hundreds of protesters have turned out in central London and blocked off the capital’s main bridges to demand the government take climate change seriously.

A group called “Extinction Rebellion” encouraged sit-ins on the bridges Saturday as part of a coordinated week of action across the country.

 

Metropolitan Police said emergency vehicles were hampered from getting across London because of the “blockade” of five bridges. The force said it had asked all protesters to congregate at Westminster Bridge where officers can facilitate lawful protest.

 

About two dozen people were arrested on Monday after protesters blocked traffic and glued themselves to gates outside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

 

Trump Says He’ll Be Briefed on Khashoggi Report

U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday he has not been briefed on a Central Intelligence Agency report that concludes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of a Saudi journalist, but that he would be briefed later in the day.

“We will be talking with the CIA later and lots of others. I’ll be doing that while I’m on the plane,” Trump told reporters at the White House before departing on a flight to California. “I’ll also be speaking with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”

The assessment by the CIA, first reported by The Washington Post Friday, contradicts that of Saudi Arabia, whose top prosecutor one day earlier exonerated the crown prince in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

U.S. officials say the CIA concluded that 15 Saudi agents flew in a Saudi government aircraft to Istanbul and assassinated Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate.

Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post and was a critic of the Saudi crown prince, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October while he was trying to get documents for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.

The Post said the CIA based its conclusion on multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, who is also the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi.

In the phone call, Khalid told Khashoggi that it would be safe for him to go the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents for his marriage. The paper said it was not known whether or not Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed.

 

Khalid denied he had spoken with Khashoggi in a tweet Friday.

“The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim,” he said.

Saudi officials say the killing of Khashoggi was accidental and say that officials were trying to force Khashoggi to return to the kingdom.

Turkish officials have said the killing was intentional and have been pressuring Saudi Arabia to allow those responsible to be tried in Turkey.

The Trump administration this week sanctioned 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing. However, some U.S. lawmakers have called on the White House to do more, including reducing the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.

 

President Donald Trump has said the Saudi government has tried to cover up the killing and has said “the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups.”

However, Trump has resisted calls to reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. president has sought closer ties with Saudi Arabia to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East as well as to increase arms trade deals between Washington and Riyadh.

French Drivers Block Roads in Fuel Tax Protest

Drivers in France are planning to block roads across the country to protest rising fuel taxes, in a new challenge to embattled President Emmanuel Macron.

 

Protesters pledge to target tollbooths, roundabouts and the bypass that rings Paris on Saturday. The government is preparing to send police to remove protesters and threatening fines.

 

The taxes are part of Macron’s strategy of weaning France off fossil fuels. Many drivers see them as emblematic of a presidency seen as disconnected from day-to-day economic difficulties.

 

The protesters have dubbed themselves the “yellow jackets” because they wear fluorescent vests that all French drivers must keep in their vehicles in case of car troubles.

 

Separately, ambulances briefly blocked Paris’ Champs-Elysees on Friday to protest new rules on ambulance financing and put pressure on Macron’s government.

Argentina: Submarine Missing a Year Found Deep in Atlantic

Argentina’s navy announced early Saturday that searchers found the missing submarine ARA San Juan deep in the Atlantic a year after it disappeared with 44 crewmen aboard.

The vessel was detected 800 meters (2,625 feet) deep in waters off the Valdes Peninsula in Argentine Patagonia, the statement said.

The navy said a “positive identification” had been made by a remote-operated submersible from the American ship Ocean Infinity, which was hired for the latest search for the missing vessel.

The discovery was announced just two days after families of the missing sailors held a commemoration one year after the sub disappeared, Nov. 15, 2017.

​Commitment to find the truth

On Thursday, on the anniversary of the disappearance, President Mauricio Macri said the families of the submariners should not feel alone and delivered an “absolute and non-negotiable commitment” to find “the truth.”

Macri promised a full investigation after the submarine was lost. Federal police raided naval bases and other buildings last January as part of the probe, soon after the government dismissed the head of the navy.

The San Juan was returning to its base in the coastal city of Mar del Plata when contact was lost.

Argentina gave up hope of finding survivors after an intense search aided by 18 countries, but the navy has continued searching for the vessel.

Retrofitted submarine

The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine was commissioned in the mid-1980s and was most recently refitted between 2008 and 2014. During the $12 million retrofitting, the vessel was cut in half and its engines and batteries were replaced. Experts said refits can be difficult because they involve integrating systems produced by different manufacturers, and even the tiniest mistake during the cutting phase can put the safety of the ship and crew at risk.

The navy said previously the captain reported Nov. 15 that water entered the snorkel and caused one of the sub’s batteries to short-circuit. The captain later communicated that it had been contained.

Some hours later, an explosion was detected near the time and place where the San Juan was last heard from. The navy said the blast could have been caused by a “concentration of hydrogen” triggered by the battery problem reported by the captain.

British Lawmakers: License Hand Car Washes to Combat Modern Slavery

British lawmakers are calling for hand car washes to be regulated and licensed to combat the modern-day slavery that is being carried out “in plain sight.”

The Environmental Audit Committee said in a report that authorities are not doing enough to prevent the “flagrant rule-breaking” and exploitation of workers at the tens of thousands of hand car washes around the country. Many of them operate on shopping center parking lots and other disused spaces.

More than a quarter of the reports of alleged labor abuses referred to the Modern Slavery Helpline last year were about hand car washes.

“Hand car washes are a common sight in our towns and cities,” said Committee Chair Mary Creagh. “Yet they hide the widespread exploitation of workers through illegally low pay, poor working conditions and in some cases, forced labor.”

The committee report said thousands of workers in Britain are believed to be slaves. Many of them are thought to be Eastern European men trapped in debt bondage, forced to work in unsafe conditions, stripped of their documents and subjected to threats, abuse and violence.

The hand car washes are also blamed for water pollution as the chemicals used flow unchecked into storm drains.

Report: CIA Concludes Saudi Prince Ordered Journalist’s Killing

The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, The Washington Post reported Friday, a finding that contradicted Saudi government assertions that he was not involved. 

The Post said U.S. officials had expressed high confidence in the CIA assessment, which was the most definitive to date linking Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler to the killing and complicated President Donald Trump’s efforts to preserve U.S. ties with one of the closest American allies in the region. 

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the accuracy of the report, but a source familiar with U.S. intelligence assessments told Reuters U.S. government experts assessed with confidence that the crown prince had ordered the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death. The Saudi government denied the allegation. 

The White House declined to comment on the Post report, saying it was an intelligence matter. The State Department also declined to comment. 

Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for the Post, was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 when he went there to pick up documents he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman. 

Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, had resisted pressure from Riyadh for him to return home. Saudi officials have said a team of 15 Saudi nationals were sent to confront Khashoggi at the consulate and that he was accidentally killed in a chokehold by men who were trying to force him to return to the kingdom. 

Pressure on Saudis

Turkish officials have said the killing was intentional and have been pressuring Saudi Arabia to extradite those responsible to stand trial. An adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused Saudi Arabia of trying to cover up the killing. 

His remarks came after Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said he was seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged in Khashoggi’s killing. The Saudi prosecutor, Shalaan al-Shalaan, told reporters the Saudi crown prince knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and removed from the consulate. 

The Post, citing people familiar with the matter, said the CIA reached its conclusions after examining multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi. 

Khalid told Khashoggi he should go to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so, the Post said. 

The newspaper, citing people familiar with the call, said it was not clear whether Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed but that he made the call at his brother’s direction. 

‘I never talked to him’

Khalid bin Salman said in a Twitter post on Friday that the last contact he had with Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017, nearly a year before the journalist’s death. 

“I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim,” he said in his Twitter message.  

Late US Senator McCain Honored for Defending Russian Human Rights

U.S. Sen. John McCain was posthumously given the 2018 Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Award in a ceremony in London on Thursday night. The award recognizes those who have fought for human rights in Russia and is named after a lawyer who was killed in a Moscow jail in 2009.

John McCain’s daughter Meghan accepted the award on behalf of her late father. In a speech she contrasted his legacy with what she called the “bloody-handed dictator of Russia.”

“John McCain defended and vindicated the memory of ordinary men and women with integrity, like Sergei Magnitsky. Vladimir Putin has them murdered. John McCain was a strong man. Vladimir Putin is weak man’s idea of a strong man. John McCain on his death was remembered with gratitude and praised by the nation he served and loved. Vladimir Putin knows well that the greatest risk to his own life is his own people, and that he will be remembered as a tyrant and a thief,” Meghan McCain told the audience in London.

John McCain became a prominent critic of Donald Trump’s dealings with Russian leader Putin, criticism that the U.S. president strongly rejected.

McCain died in August from brain cancer at age 81.

Several other awards were made Thursday night, including to Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, and to the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year jail term in Russia.

Magnitsky was beaten to death in police custody in 2009 after investigating a $230 million tax fraud allegedly carried out by senior Russian officials.

Bill Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, employed Magnitsky to investigate the fraud. He campaigned for the U.S. to adopt the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which allows the withholding of visas and the freezing of assets of human rights offenders. John McCain was key in pushing the legislation through Congress. Several other countries have since adopted similar legislation, including Canada and Britain.

“And so starting next year, we’re not just going to honor Russian heroes, but in the spirit of the global Magnitsky Act, we’re going to honor heroes from around the world,” Browder said Thursday night.

Meanwhile this week, the United States used the Magnitsky Act to sanction 17 Saudi officials accused of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi.