Running for their lives

Children and families in Central America and Mexico are risking their lives to escape violence and poverty.

by Tanya Bindra and Olga Chambers
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UNICEF/UN0217822/Bindra

15 August 2018

In recent years, an increasing number of children and families from Central America are migrating north via irregular pathways, in the hope of resettling in the United States of America. Some are fleeing brutal gangs, while others are trying to escape poverty. Many are hoping to reunite with family already in the US. Despite stricter immigration enforcement measures in Mexico and the US, children and families in Central America will continue to make the dangerous journey, unless the root causes of this migration are addressed. Protecting children must be at the heart of any solution.

 

 

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In Honduras, high rates of poverty and violence lead many children to try to migrate to the United States. Enrique, 19, in El Progreso, says that there are no chances of finding honest work there. Recently deported from Mexico while trying to get to the US, he plans to try again soon. 

Bars are on a window at a home next to a mara (gang)-controlled lot in the city of Rivera Hernandez, Honduras.

 

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Byron Venegas with his wife, Yosari Samai Venegas Osorio, and their two children, Axel, 2 months old, and Esteven, 2 years old, at home in El Progreso. Byron, who has tried several times to go to the US, lived in Mexico for a few years. He left after the mara there tried to force him to sell drugs and threatened to kill him when he refused. 

A peace sign on a wall at a home in Rivera Hernandez.

 

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Christian, 19, who lives in El Progreso with his grandmother, was also deported recently from Mexico while trying to go to the US. He too will try again to return to look for work. 

An old, broken-down car is seen in a mara-controlled neighbourhood in Rivera Hernandez.

 

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[NAMES CHANGED] Maria and her daughter, Sandra, 8, hug each other in Casa del Migrante, a transit centre in Guatemala City, Guatemala, for deportees and people passing through the city. They were deported from Mexico. Maria, fleeing poverty and domestic violence, paid a smuggler for three attempts to get there, so they will try again. 

A cross and a Guardian statue at church in Guatemala City.

 

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[NAME CHANGED] Pilar, 15, and her family are also at Casa del Migrante in Guatemala City. They fled El Progreso, Honduras, after a girl at Pilar’s school threatened to kill them if Pilar didn’t join her gang as a sex worker.

“It was hard to leave my friends, especially because I couldn’t say goodbye. We couldn’t risk the gang finding out,” Pilar says.  A mara-controlled house in Rivera Hernandez. 

 

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Ashley Andraras-Hercules, 13, in Potrerillos, Honduras, holds a photo of her mum, who passed away while they were living in America.

“[S]he wanted a better future,” Ashley says “and she went because she wanted to provide eye surgery to my grandmother.” Ashley and her sister now live with their grandmother. A family portrait hangs on a wall in their home. 

 

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San Miguel Attican and his son, Jorge, 5, arrive at the airport in Guatemala City after being deported from the United States, where he made $300 a week selling fish. In Guatemala, he worked as a farmer and earned nearly eight times less. 

Eliasa, 15, was deported from Mexico to the Nuestras Raices shelter for migrant minors in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. His bag contains the few items he took with him to go the US. 

 

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Alandra Hernandez, 14, a student at Presentacion Centeno School in Honduras’ Choloma Municipality, is part of a coalition advocating for peaceful coexistence at the school, where tension and aggression is high among the student body. The principal fled after he was threatened by gangs. 

A mural promotes peace in Rivera Hernandez, where six gangs are fighting for control of the crime-ridden city. 

 

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“The community, the population who is of working age, they have migrated,” says Henry Javier Menjivar Ramirez, the principal at CEB Dr. Roberto Zuazo Córdoba School in Potrerillos, Honduras. “Most of them, because they don’t have a job.… We used to have 860 students and currently we only have 219.” 

Used books and papers sit on an old bookshelf in a Potrerillos classroom. 

 

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Ingrid Castrillo, with her daughter, Jasmine, 15, smiles at the community centre where she teaches, in Puerto Cortes Municipality in Honduras. 

“I decided to emigrate because of the financial situation I was facing in my country [Guatemala], and I decided to travel to try to get a better life, so my daughter could have it too,” Ingrid says. A girl holds a tambourine at the community centre.