The migrant caravan, as it’s come to be known, has made headlines across the world ever since October this year, when thousands of Central American migrants, including men, women and entire families, set off walking through southern Mexico in the hope of reaching the US.
All of them seeking an escape from the extreme violence, crime and poverty that surrounded them in Latin America.
But for many of them, their perceived American dream will never become a reality. The plight of these desperate people has been worsened by President Trump, who views them as an enemy of the state and through political posturing ahead of the November midterm elections created an image of marauding invading foreigners, rather than harmless, peaceful refugees.
They face an uncertain future, and with asylum for some sort of sanctuary in America being heavily oversubscribed, these migrants are confronted with deportation, their children being taken away and caged and a hail of bullets from organised militia who would be more at home in the Wild West.
UK based photographer Sean Hawkey, himself born in Honduras, felt compelled to capture the situation first hand in an attempt to convey the truth of what was really going on in a propaganda filled environment. We spoke to Sean recently about his experience with the migrant caravan.
The MALESTROM: What was your motivation to photograph the migrant caravan?
Sean Hawkey: I have spent most of my life in the UK, but I was born in Honduras. My family on my mother’s side are El Salvadorans and I lived in Nicaragua for a period of my childhood.
I have a very strong attachment to Latin America as someone who never fit in quite so well on the South Coast of England, it’s my second home.
I recently went on a trip to look at youth and violence in Honduras where I covered gangs, riots and crime scenes. A sickening and bloody excursion that I found difficult to handle even for 2 weeks.
It’s much harder hitting to know that people are experiencing the violence every day of their lives, and it’s only getting worse.
In the age of smartphones, social-media and companies like Cambridge Analytica, our lives are saturated with a never-ending supply of political propaganda, fake news and fearmongering.
We are trying to reduce it but it’s not working, the only option is to fight back with truth.
Knowing I have the power to at least inform people of the suffering and pain that plagues Latin America, keeps me going in a line of work that can be so disheartening.
Trump is capitalising on fear by demonising innocent, desperate children, parents and families in a misinformation war. Hopefully, my images can tackle some of these issues.
TM: How much has Trump helped demonise these people with his attitude?
SH: Trump’s tactics are to incite fear and anger in people so he can then pretend to be their saviour by ostracizing groups of desperate people to create a faux enemy that cannot actually fight back.
In a discreditable and outrageous tweet, Trump claimed that the caravan is an “invasion” of “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners”.
Trump has had a lot of backlash after his heavily criticised Muslim ‘travel ban’, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”.
According to The Washington Post Tump said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here”, and later said the U.S. should have more immigrants from countries like Norway.
Trump’s views and actions are seen as racist to many, but, for a large community in the US, he is seen as the hero.
TM: Did you see any violence from either side? What was their treatment like along the way?
SH: On their journey through Mexico, the caravan was calm, the general consensus was that the further they got away from home the better.
They were leaving behind a level of violence and suffering, many said they would rather die on the journey than see again.
All along the route, the people of Mexico came out in their masses to support them, they fed them, gave them medical attention and gave them the shoes off their feet, but at the border, it’s a different story.
Tijuana can’t support the caravan like the south of Mexico could, there is growing unrest, and when the US side of the border began firing tear gas into crowds of migrants lining the border, they quickly dispersed. How can they fight back?
The caravan is mostly made up of young families who couldn’t survive in Honduras or El Salvador and when the US is heavily armed and ready to open fire, there just isn’t a way for them to protest.
Trump said that if a migrant were to throw a stone then the US are to “consider it a rifle” and open fire.
TM: What was their reaction to you?
SH: The caravan was saturated with photographers and film crews. Generally, people want their story to be heard, they are glad journalists are there to shed some light on the causes and effects of mass migration like this.
The caravan is very vulnerable, they have little control over how the public see them, and as time went on, they began to realise that the US media hasn’t taken to them so well, which caused them to become a little sourer with me taking photos.
But eventually, as people begin to recognise you as someone who will listen they become more open with you.
TM: What do you think when you hear the phrase ‘the American dream’? Did you see many people giving up and going back to their homelands?
SH: Many in the caravan are in search of the fabled American Dream. Current policy would mean that, at the border, the children will be separated from their mothers and fathers and put in cages.
Another scenario is that organised militia that have been waiting at the border trespassing on private land, open fire on the desperate families trying to cross and claim they were armed with lethal pebbles.
Mexico tried to help them by offering them jobs and asylum in Mexico, but there is still great fear that it isn’t far enough from home.
Many did stay to set up new lives in the safer areas of Mexico, and a few have returned home when they felt that their chances of surviving north were just as slim.
TM: Is there one image you feel sums up the experience? The picture of the child clutching his toy is particularly heartbreaking especially when you think of the uncertain future he faces…
SH: When travelling with them, everyday I was astounded by how much energy and charisma the children brought to the people in the caravan, and I quickly realised that for most people in the caravan, the children’s wellbeing was the reason they were escaping.
Trying to capture the fear and danger of the journey was difficult when people smiled and laughed every part of the journey.
These images are a result of me trying to photograph the cracks in the delicate and unstable exodus that the caravan is. When people look at the images, I hope they understand a lot of these people are clutching on for dear life and all of these people are desperate enough to walk thousands of miles to get their families somewhere safer.
These people are in need of help and are not the evil invasion Trump and his Administration would like you believe they are.
See more of Sean’s images by visiting his website: https://sghawkey.photoshelter.com/
On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hawkietalkies/
And to help support the Save the Children campaign for the migrant caravan please visit: https://www.savethechildren.org/us/what-we-do/emergency-response/historical-emergencies/us-border-crisis
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