There is always work in the North

Publié: 19 décembre 2016 17:53 CET

Juan is having a lively conversation with his four friends. Even though it is seven in the morning and the weather is cooler because of the rain, everyone is energetic and enthusiastic. They are making plans for the journey that they think will take them to the place where everything is possible – the “North” or the “States”. These friends are in their thirties and they are in such a good mood that no one would tell that this is the third time they have been sent back from Mexico to Honduras.


Juan and his friends are five of the 1,200 people that are looked after every week at the Migrant Attention Centre in Omoa, in the Cortés department in Honduras, near the Guatemalan border. The centre is supported by the Honduran Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Honduran Red Cross (HRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).


“I’m not staying here” says Juan, drinking an orange juice brought by a Honduran Red Cross volunteer. “There is no work in Honduras, but you can always find work in the North. Some of my cousins have been living there for years, they have a good life and they even have their own cars”. Juan does not want to talk about his three attempts to reach US soil, when asked, he only manages to say “it’s very hard, but it’s worth it”, and then he looks down as if he doesn’t want to remember anything.


Juan and his friends have completed the medical exam provided by the Migrant Assistance Centre. They have also phoned their friends and family through the Restoring Family Links programme, and now they are finishing breakfast in one of the spacious rooms at the Centre. Suddenly, one of Juan’s friends says to me: “how about if I tell you what this journey is like, but I don’t tell you my name? To start with, everybody treats you like a freak because you’ve decided to leave your country. Nobody wants to help you; they don’t even want to tell you where to find a chemist if you need a medicine. And there are thieves on the way. You have to be extremely careful because when they see you, they know who you are, and they follow you to take all your money. That’s why I have no worries now, they took everything I had, so I’m making this trip without a penny. I’ll see how I can manage on the road”.


A meeting point

According to José Juan Castro, President of the HRC, “the migrant issue needs a regional approach that allows National Societies to share experiences and knowledge, support each other, coordinate actions and share information”. Castro points out that thanks to their work and the implementation of their lessons learnt, today the HRC is an example to follow in terms of handling the migrant issue. For this reason, the Honduran government has given them the coordination of the Omoa Centre.


The Centre includes general and first-aid medical facilities; a registration office managed by migration officers; kitchen and dining room; provisional shelter for men, women and LGTB people; a place to make phone calls; and a space for distributing hygiene kits. The facilities are very well kept and they have their own interesting story: “The Honduran government expropriated the building from a local drug dealer and now it’s being used for humanitarian purposes”, says Castro, smiling at this fact.


The Omoa Centre was opened in February 2016. It substituted the old centre that had been operating in Corintos since July 2012. Between July 2012 and May 2015, the Corintos Centre offered assistance to 9,232 migrants, 8,042 of which were unaccompanied minors.


“We don’t receive unaccompanied minors at this centre”, says Mauricio Paredes, Regional Vice-president of the HRC. “They are taken to another centre that is better equipped to assist unaccompanied or accompanied minors. In this way we can offer a more appropriate assistance to each group”, adds Paredes. The fact is that the HRC has made considerable efforts in this programme for returned migrants so that it covers all the necessary issues to meet the diverse and changing needs of this population.


To this end, the HRC has strengthened the capacities of its volunteers, not only in terms of first aid assistance, but also in terms of psychosocial support. According to Hayra Carcamo, HRC volunteer, “we have received training in psychosocial support, not only to have the appropriate knowledge to help migrants who have gone through traumatic events, but also to be emotionally and psychologically fit as volunteers so we can provide the best assistance possible”.


“My experience at the Migrant Assistance Centre has been invaluable, because in the past there were no organizations or relief corps providing assistance to these people that are physically and emotionally affected. To be able to give that assistance is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me here. I feel very happy to help the people that come here, even though it is sad not be able to help them completely. But at least with the little we can give, we are doing something”, says Oscar Madrid, another HRC volunteer, visibly moved.


Right now there is a lot of movement at the Centre. Another bus filled with returned migrants has arrived. They were detained in Mexico to be sent back to their country. They are getting off the bus with their broken hopes and their eyes filled with sadness. But few of them will stay in Honduras. They all have tragic stories to tell. “I need to get money to pay for a difficult surgery for my daughter”, says José. “I can’t live anymore in fear, with all this violence. I want a life, and it is impossible to have one when you’re surrounded by all these gangs”, says Clara. Some will hit the road again on the same day. “I think this Centre is a good place because I’m able to tell my family that I’m fine, but I can’t go back home here in Honduras, even though they have given me good advice. I need to work and I can’t find a job here. So I’m leaving again”, says Juan, waving goodbye and heading towards the exit door.