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Honduras faces migrants, for better and for worse

Danielle Alvarez UNHCR Las Manos, in El Paraíso, on the border with Nicaragua

< strong> While the world's eyes are on the Middle East and other conflict regions, the heart of the Americas is experiencing an unprecedented migration crisis. Because, despite the closure of Roxham Road and the selective immigration policies of the United States, nothing seems to dampen the hope for a better life of thousands of people from Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, which took the northern route. Dutywent to meet them at two nerve points of this great crossing, where vulnerability and determination coexist, where life and death intersect. Second in a series of four texts.

Welcome to Honduras.» Starting from Nicaragua, the small muddy path leads next to a tin shack onto a rutted asphalt road, a few steps from the barrier which marks the official border between the two countries. It is through this semblance of “Roxham Road”, in the infernal roar of the engines of the numerous ten-wheelers and yellow buses lining up on the side of the road, that thousands of migrants arrive each month at “El Paraíso”, in southern Honduras.

“That,it is paradise ? » says Andrés Agudelo, mockingly. With his good friend Douglas, this father left his native Colombia a month ago to head north. Having left their wives and children behind, the two men, in their thirties, have so far crossed the borders of four countries, with the hope of reaching those of the United States, to secure a better future. “I would just like that, to be able to have a little house [in Colombia] and be peaceful with my family,” explains Andrés, seeming to say that he is not asking for the moon.

Like Andrés and Douglas, more than 442,000 people entered Honduras irregularly between January 1 and October 31, 2023, an unprecedented number, according to the National Migration Institute (INM). This is at least twice as many as in all of 2022. “Last year, we were talking about 5,000 people arriving per month. There, that’s 5000 people per day! » said the head of communications at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Honduras, Danielle Alvarez.

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“We never imagined experiencing this one day”

The UNHCR, which monitors the border with Nicaragua to the south, even speaks of 750,000 irregular entries since the start of the year, counting the hundreds of thousands of people who do not register with the INM. This is more than the number of migrants who crossed the “Darién” jungle, a necessary but dangerous passage on the border of Colombia and Panama. Why do so many desperate people find themselves transiting through Honduras?

The answer lies partly in a new migratory route – an air route this time – which some 30,000 Haitians have taken since August to Nicaragua, a country south of Honduras which does not require a visa to Haitians and Cubans, in particular. Under threat from the Biden government, these chartered flights from Port-au-Prince were however suspended at the end of October, but it is too little too late: this route, combined with the one which passes through the Darién jungle more in the south, has caused the number of migrants in Honduras to explode.

“The country does not have the capacity to accommodate so many people,” says José Léon Barrena, head of operations at the UNHCR office in Honduras. Among the poorest and most violent in Central America, this country is 15 times smaller than Quebec and has the same number of inhabitants. Mr. Barrena fears that a “sandwich effect” will occur and that Honduras will find itself having to deal with migrants who are in transit north and those who are delayed in their ascent from countries further north, such as Mexico and the United States. “With the accommodation capacity we have here, we would find ourselves facing a huge humanitarian crisis. »

Honduras, land of empathy

It's a “little” Thursday in the town of El Paraíso, where the line of migrants is However, it extends as far as the eye can see in front of the offices of the National Migration Institute. In the hubbub of mobile exchange offices and the cries of traders selling their “Chinese” rice to the frijóles, people from Venezuela, Nigeria, Somalia and even as far away as Afghanistan are calmly waiting to be able to register with the migration authorities.

Paul Ernsolorens, a young Haitian of 22 years old, says he left Brazil where he had been living since 2019 because he did not earn a good enough living as an employee of the national butcher's shop. “You have to pay the rent, eat and send some money home. “There's nothing left after that,” he says.

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This text is published via our Perspectives section.

His parents having left Haiti for France after the coup d'état against Aristide in 2004, the then three-year-old toddler was entrusted to his grandmother , who raised him alone. “I'm risking my life for her too, because I want to give her, even if it's not a better life, at least a small gift… I don't know… something that would make her happy,” said the young man. , who travels in a group to Florida.

The journey so far has been difficult. After the Darién, where he almost drowned, Paul Ernsolorens crossed Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua on foot and by bus, sleeping where he could and eating when possible.

 Honduras facing migrants, for better and for worse

Photo: Danielle Alvarez UNHCR Lisbeth Valladares, human rights officer at INM

For now, he is in Honduras, waiting under the blazing sun to exchange his biometric data for a transit visa of five days, now free. “It’s like support given by our country,” underlines Lisbeth Valladares, human rights officer at the INM. “Everywhere here you’re going to find families where one member has immigrated elsewhere. There is a natural empathy because we know what it is. »

But the temporary tents that Honduran authorities initially erected to accommodate 200 people were not enough. “The needs are too great,” she continued, pointing to the construction site adjacent to the INM offices, where many migrants are busy. New buildings under construction will make it possible to accommodate twice as many by the end of the year. “We also need to feed them and give them basic health services. »

Between xenophobia…

In the heart of Danlí, capital of the department of El Paraíso, Hermès Pavón, proud owner of El Rancho viejo, generously salts a piece of meat which is sizzling on a hot plate. Across the street, the Monumento a la madre park is no longer what it used to be. In this place without toilets or drinking water, tents and plastic sheeting are stretched between the trees, clothes are drying on the branches and some plastic waste litters the sandy ground. “There’s a constant flow of people arriving and leaving. I don't have the impression that it will stop,” he believes.

Honduras facing migrants, for better and for worse

Photo: Danielle Alvarez UNHCR Monumento a la madre park

Due to a lack of resources, more and more migrants have no choice but to squat in public places. “We have no more money,” says Daniela Rada, a Venezuelan native who took up residence in the park a month ago with her family. She spent all her precious dollars on transportation and medicine for her children, who suffered from asthma, fever and severe diarrhea. “I can also tell you that there are some people who are making money thanks to us! We are made to pay three times the price for a bus ticket,” denounces this mother of four children.

She still salutes the kindness of local religious organizations, who come to the park every day to offer meals. But at night, insecurity reigns, confirms Daniela, who cannot sleep a wink. “There are some who come in to search our tents. We sleep with weapons,” says his eldest, pointing a machete.

The unprecedented number of migrants and refugees who crossed the country may have provoked strong reactions among the population, bringing out the best and the worst, regrets Daamory Ríos, who also works for the UNHCR in Honduras. “When we saw that people had built walls in certain neighborhoods [stuck to the border], we understood that there was something there. » To curb xenophobia, UNHCR teams increased discussions in public squares to listen to people and even went to meet local leaders to try to raise their awareness of the situation. “We haven't always had success, but we hope, also thanks to local community leadership, that it won't go any further,” he says.

…and solidarity

Sometimes, it’s solidarity that takes over. As in this wave of sympathy which swept over a decimated Haitian family who saw their makeshift boat capsize last year in a river near Trojes, a southern border town. The father and baby died of drowning. Only the woman survived. “People organized the funeral and painted a mural for the child,” says Danielle Alvarez. I always say that if Honduras is a country in the heart of Central America, it is also because the people there have heart. »

Honduras facing migrants, for better and for worse

Photo: Danielle Alvarez UNHCR Hermès Pavón in her small restaurant El Rancho viejo

In his small restaurant El Rancho Viejo, Hermès Pavón does not hesitate to say loud and clear that the migrants have been a real “blessing” for him. “I had to move my business which was a few steps from here. Everything had to be redone. I asked them: Who knows carpentry? Who can paint? » Without them, he assures, it would have taken three times the time to settle down.

And at a certain point, the tide turned, and he was the one who was able to help the refugees in the park. “One time it was raining hard. The children were in the mud outside. It did not make sense. I told them to come and take shelter in my business,” says the restaurateur, showing a video of the flood on his phone. “Not everyone understands this, but migrating is a right,” he continues, before adding: “Who doesn’t want a better future for their children? »

This report was made possible thanks to the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116