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Undeterred by tightened borders, Honduran caravan continues to US

Esquipulas, Guatemala – Isabel Flores and her husband, Eric Laynez, see fleeing their home in Honduras to the United States as their only option. “There is no work in Honduras,” Flores told Al Jazeera as she stood outside the Casa de Migrante shelter in Esquipulas, Guatemala after crossing the border earlier in the week. She’s…

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Undeterred by tightened borders, Honduran caravan continues to US

Esquipulas, Guatemala – Isabel Flores and her husband, Eric Laynez, see fleeing their home in Honduras to the United States as their only option.

“There is no work in Honduras,” Flores told Al Jazeera as she stood outside the Casa de Migrante shelter in Esquipulas, Guatemala after crossing the border earlier in the week. She’s travelling with her husband, Eric Laynez, their three-year-old son, Daniel and one-year-old daughter, Michelle.

Flores said that even if one finds work in Honduras, the pay isn’t enough to cover rent, food, electricity and other goods, and you run the risk of continually being robbed by gangs, who threaten to kill individuals who go to police.

“One finds it better to endure rather than risk their lives,” she said. 

Flores and her family left their home in Saba, Colon on a bus to the border town of Ocotepeque, Honduras on Tuesday night. They then walked with hundreds of other Hondurans who set off in a new US-bound caravan, eventually crossing into Guatemala on Wednesday.  

By late Wednesday more than 1,500 Hondurans and 170 Salvadorans had crossed into Guatemala, most on their way to the US border.

Many said they are fleeing rampant poverty and crime.

Honduran migrants and refugees rest outside the Esquipulas Casa de Migrante [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

Flores has worked in small businesses in the past, including selling ice cream and plastic items. She has been robbed by gangs and fears speaking out against the assaults.

The threat is real. At least 26 people in gang violence have been killed since the beginning of 2019.

“They (the government) say Honduras is getting better, but we aren’t seeing it. Things are getting worse,” Flores said. “It is difficult in Honduras.”

Flores and her husband hope things in Honduras improve so that they can buy their own home in the country with the money they hope to earn in the US. 

“One migrates not because they want a life there [in the United States], but because they are looking for a means to build a home in Honduras. I want my own home. I want to go for 5 years to build my home,” she said.

Sitting not far from Flores at the shelter was Maria Salguero. The 18-year-old from Ocotepeque, Honduras joined the caravan in hopes of finding better opportunities in US.

“If one doesn’t struggle, then they will never advance,” she told Al Jazeera as she clutched her backpack to her chest.

Salguero left school in the fifth grade to support her mother and younger siblings.

“There was no one to support my mom, so I had to leave school to support the family,” she said, adding that she hopes to earn enough in the US to send back home to her family.

Tightened borders: ‘They have no respect’

Most in the new caravan plan on joining the thousands of Central Americans already waiting at the US-Mexico border to apply for asylum in the US. The administration of US President Donald Trump has implementing a metering-system at the border, limiting the number of asylum cases that are heard each day. This means for those who just left Honduras and El Salvador, it will likely be months before they step foot into the US. 

This coupled with the tighter immigration measures put in place by the Central American governments has made the journey even tougher for those fleeing.

“They did not want to let us pass,” Salguero said, referring to Honduran authorities who used tear gas on a group of Hondurans attempting to cross the border.

She had to wait hours without food, water or shelter, she said.

The Guatemalan Migration institute issued a statement upholding the CA-4 agreement of free travel within the region for those who carried proper identification. It said that those without proper documents will be sent back. The institute added that the process is put in place to protect travellers from human rights violations and guarantee their protection from human traffickers.

At the official border crossing, migrants and refugees are given slips of papers by Guatemalan immigration authorities upon crossing the border and must present the document when leaving.

A group of Honduran migrants and refugees board a bus to the Guatemalan department of Peten [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera] 

Flores said her family were stopped four times by Honduran authorities as they made their way to the border. 

“We feel repressed by our own government, by our own fatherland, we don’t feel secure,” Flores said. “They are not at the side of the poor, or the people. We walked feeling restricted and with fear,” she said.

Her husband, Laynez added, “they have no respect”.

“The treat us as criminals for leaving the country. We have the same value as them, but they treat us poorly,” he said.

Despite the immediate challenges and the obstacles awaiting them at the US-Mexico border, most migrants and refugees Al Jazeera met in the latest caravan seem undeterred and motivated by the possibility of a better life further north.

“We have no future,” Laynez said. “We are looking for a better life to support our family.”

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German far-right holds congress with COVID ‘hotspot potential’

About 600 members of AfD due to meet Saturday at an unused nuclear plant in Kalkar city defying pandemic warnings.Hundreds of AfD delegates will gather Saturday for a congress that authorities have warned could become a coronavirus hotspot, as the German far-right party increasingly aligns itself with activists protesting coronavirus restrictions. Six hundred members of…

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German far-right holds congress with COVID ‘hotspot potential’

About 600 members of AfD due to meet Saturday at an unused nuclear plant in Kalkar city defying pandemic warnings.Hundreds of AfD delegates will gather Saturday for a congress that authorities have warned could become a coronavirus hotspot, as the German far-right party increasingly aligns itself with activists protesting coronavirus restrictions.
Six hundred members of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant party are due to meet at an unused nuclear plant in western Germany’s Kalkar city to draw up their first concept on pensions.
To win approval for the huge gathering at a time when Germans are asked to limit their contacts to just two households at a time, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) had signed up to stringent rules including compulsory mask-wearing and distancing in the huge hall.
The party’s own security officers are due to ensure that the rules are met, alongside officials from Kalkar city.
Hundreds of police officers will also be deployed to ward off any unruly scenes, as anti-AfD protesters have also announced plans to demonstrate outside.

The event can “become a hotspot,” warned Kalkar’s mayor Britta Schulz, adding that, while it was “irresponsible” to hold such a big event, the political gathering could not be prohibited.
Because new appointments are also due to be made to the AfD’s board during the meeting, the congress is exempted from rules banning large gatherings in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
More than 15,000 COVID deaths
In contrast, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party has twice postponed its congress to elect a new leader because of the risks of coronavirus contagion. The Greens held their meeting online last weekend.
Shrugging off possible risks, the AfD’s health policy spokesman Detlev Spangenberg claimed, “The coronavirus is comparable to the influenza in terms of the course taken by the illness as well as in terms of its lethality. So the serious measures [taken to fight it] are not proportionate.”
Germany has recorded more than a million coronavirus infections. A total of 15,586 people have died from the illness, according to official data.
‘War propaganda’
The AfD has been the focus of repeated controversies since it began life as a eurosceptic outfit seven years ago.

In 2015, as public opinion soured against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to keep Germany’s borders open to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war in Iraq and Syria, the AfD morphed into an anti-immigration party.
It was rewarded for its Islamophobic positioning at elections in 2017, when voters sent it into the Bundestag for the first time to become the biggest opposition group in parliament.
A year before national elections, the party is once again positioning itself at the side of groups railing against the government – this time over curbs imposed to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Party co-chief Alexander Gauland recently accused the government of using “war propaganda” to champion its “corona-dictatorship”.
Anti-coronavirus curbs
AfD politicians are now also regularly marching side by side demonstrators against coronavirus curbs.
During the latest round of protests in central Berlin, when violence reached a level that the capital’s police chief said had been unseen in decades, an AfD politician was charged for using a forged medical certificate to claim he could not wear the required nose and mouth covering.
In a separate incident recently, Gauland was forced to apologise after two of the party’s legislators invited to parliament two far-right YouTubers who went on to harass politicians in the building.
Nevertheless, the AfD’s ratings have held at about 10 percent, compared with highs of 15-16 percent at the height of the refugee crisis.
In 2017, German voters sent AfD into the Bundestag for the first time to become the biggest opposition group in parliament [File: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters]Toxic infighting between ultra-conservatives and others in the party has weakened the AfD. Some voters are also turned off by association with neo-Nazi skinheads, as the AfD’s most radical faction “Fluegel” is now the object of official surveillance by Germany’s intelligence agency.
Instead, approval ratings for Merkel – who is due to retire from politics next year – have soared to new heights, as the vast majority of the population voiced satisfaction at her handling of the pandemic.

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah. One of the facility’s tanks…

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
One of the facility’s tanks was hit by a missile in early on Monday.
The attack knocked out 10 percent of all fuel that was stored at the plant, a Saudi Aramco official said on Tuesday, adding that the tank – one of 13 at the facility – is currently out of action.
The official described the site as a “critical facility” that distributes more than 120,000 barrels of products per day.
A fire caused by the attack was extinguished in about 40 minutes with no casualties, he said.
The attack was confirmed by a Saudi official who told the Saudi state news agency (SPA) it was a “terrorist attack with a projectile”.
The oil company’s production and export facilities are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, more than 1,000km (621 miles) away from Jeddah, across the country.
Announcing the attack, a military spokesman for the Houthis warned that “operations will continue”.
Yahya Sarea said the attack was carried out with a Quds-2 type winged missile. He also posted a satellite image with the label: “North Jeddah bulk plant-Saudi Aramco”.
“The strike was very accurate, and ambulances and fire engines rushed to the target,” Sarea said.
That facility is just southeast of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, an important site that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.
Renewed violence
Yemen has been mired in conflict since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government, which had been removed from power in the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces in late 2014.
Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces have escalated since late May when a truce prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic expired. The Saudi-led coalition has responded with air raids on Houthi-held territory.
The Houthis control most of north Yemen and most large urban areas. They say they are fighting a corrupt system.
Sarea said the attack was carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen.
The claimed attack came just after a visit by outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom also just hosted the annual G20 summit, which concluded on Sunday.

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations. James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a…

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations.
James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a US Senate voice vote.
The South Carolina native takes the job that he will carry out from the capital of neighbouring Colombia as Venezuela endures an historic economic and political crisis.
The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations first started to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.
The two nations totally broke diplomatic ties last year, each withdrawing its diplomats shortly after Washington backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader.
Story, 50, will likely play a key role in helping guide US policy on Venezuela during the transition of President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden’s win has sparked debate among those who back President Donald Trump’s hardline approach of isolating his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro and others who say it is time for a new course.
The critics say heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power, opening Venezuela to US competitors such as China, Russia and Iran, while making life harder on millions of residents of the South American nation.
The US leads a coalition of dozens of nations that rejected Maduro following his election in 2018 to a second term in a vote Washington called fraudulent.
The US has since heavily sanctioned Maduro, his inner circle and the state-run oil firm, attempting to isolate them.
The Trump administration offered a $15m reward for Maduro’s arrest after a US court indicted him on drug charges.

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