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Hondurans Fleeing to the US: “The World’s Most Vulnerable Refugees”

People are fleeing Honduras every day. Staying put is impossible with gang violence and human rights violations mounting in Honduras, but the journey to the United States is turned into a nightmare by the Guatemalan and Mexican authorities.

No wonder UNHCR is calling these people “the world’s most vulnerable refugees”- they have no physical or legal protection, and it is becoming increasingly clear that they also have no place to go.

Why stay?

Honduras is one of the poorest nations in the world, with two thirds of the population living in extreme poverty, with no access to medical attention, clean water, or even electricity. There is no opportunity of any kind for Hondurans in their home country. As if this were not enough, Honduras also has one of the 10 highest per capita homicide rates in the world, with 44 homicides per 100,000 people. But civilians in Honduras often fall victims to sexual violence, extortion, and other human rights abuses as well. They call these ‘maras’, organised crimes by gangs. This violence has psychological, medical, and social repercussions.

The media has also experienced first-hand the violence in the area. Tens of journalists have been murdered in the past years with no one being punished in almost all cases. Human rights lawyers and activists in Honduras have also been attacked and at times even murdered.

These heinous murders led the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to describe Honduras as one “of the most hostile and dangerous countries for human rights defenders” in the Americas.

What is even worse, the Honduran authorities are corrupted and abusive, contributing to this crisis instead of fighting it. Overall, Honduras seems to be right now one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

Where to go?

Hondurans want a better and safer life for themselves and for their families and they think they will find it in the United States. Thousands have embarked on a dangerous and exhausting journey to ‘The Land of Opportunity’ via Guatemala and Mexico in the past year, with the last caravan setting off from San Pedro Sula on the 13th October. This caravan has been slowly advancing through Guatemala and Mexico: most Hondurans go on foot, while others travel in overcrowded trucks. They are walking on highways, they are crossing rivers, they are hiking through forests – day in day out, irrespective of the weather conditions.

This exodus is a heartbreaking sight. People can only bathe in rivers or by using fire hydrants in the street. Some Hondurans brought with them tents so they can enjoy some intimacy when they stop to rest. But there are others who sleep under the clear sky and take refuge wherever they can when it is raining. Exhausted children are sleeping on the ground or on the side of the road when the walk gets unbearable. This journey would be difficult even for a fit adult, let alone for a child.

Guatemala and Mexico

Besides these adversities, Guatemala is also making their journey harder, fortifying its border crossings with barbed wire and fortified fences. The Mexican government is also trying to stop them at the border and then at various check-points along the way, but the migrants are desperate and many times manage to break through the set blockades. The Mexican Police is wearing riot gear and using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse or keep away the crowds of Honduran asylum seekers, which count many women and children. These are considered to be non-lethal methods to maintain control during protests and riots.

In reality, over 100 migrants have been seriously harmed in such clashes and. Henry Diaz, a 26 year-old Honduran asylum seeker, died after being shot to the head with a rubber bullet.

Mexican Minister of Interior Alfonso Navarrete publicly denied that there were violent protests at the border, and that the death of Henry Diaz was caused by the intervention of the Mexican forces. He claimed that they were not carrying any weapons, not even of the non-lethal kind. His statement contradicts everything the migrants and the journalists working in the area witnessed. He then added that Mexico is internationally renowned for its respect for asylum seekers’ human rights. Yet Amnesty International and various Mexican human rights organisations have accused the Mexican government of effectively detaining more than 1,000 asylum seekers in a so-called shelter, which not only shows no respect for their human rights, but it is also illegal.

Apart from the clash with the national forces, Hondurans are also risking falling victims to drug cartels and human traffickers who take advantage of their vulnerability as they advance through Mexico. It seems that besides the humanitarian agencies operating in the area, the Mexican people are the only ones trying to help as much as they can, donating clothes and food whenever they can.

“The wall already exists. It’s called Mexico”

But the target destination for the Hondurans is still the United States. US Vice President Mike Pence encouraged the government in Honduras to convince its citizens not to flee the country. The Trump administration has already deployed 5,000 troops, including armed officials, to the southern border to prevent the Honduran migrants from entering the country and claiming asylum. President Trump threatened to cut US aid to Central America and to close the southern border if the Mexican authorities cannot control the influx of refugees.

He complains that “we’ve given so much money to so many countries for so many years and it’s not fair. And when we ask these countries to keep their people, they won’t do it”.

Ironically enough, Mexico seems ready to ‘do it’ for the United States, despite Trump’s hateful rhetoric about Mexican immigrants in the past years and his plan to build a wall on the southern border to keep them away. A brand new deal between Trump and the Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador will keep Honduran asylum seekers on Mexican soil as long as it takes for their asylum applications to be processed and for a decision to be reached in each individual case. How long would this take? Probably years. So much for the American dream of thousands of Honduran asylum seekers!

A recent Tweet by Mexican political analyst Carlos Bravo Regidor is now more relevant than ever: “The wall already exists. It’s called Mexico. Congratulations, Mr. Trump.”.

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