The numbers leaving Honduras are rising as the country grapples with the economic fallout of the pandemic, the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the cost of living crisis, as well as the more entrenched issues of gang violence, poverty and climate change. It’s impossible to know how many people leave Honduras. One estimate is that every year, 130,000-150,000 people try to reach the USA.
The route to the US is full of danger, and migrants are “extremely vulnerable”. Some perish from exposure to the elements in the desert that lies along the Mexico-US border; others are killed in road accidents or die grisly deaths on “the beast” – a freight train that traverses Mexico; some are detained by authorities; and some, like Rosa and her daughter, fall victim to criminal gangs in Mexico, who view migrants as a business opportunity.
“There are multiple factors here in Honduras that force people to migrate,” says Rolando Sierra, director of the faculty of social sciences at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. “Honduras has a high percentage of the population living in poverty without opportunities for employment. And, if levels of violence, corruption and impunity don’t reduce, then neither will migration.”
The International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project documented that between January 2014 and March 2022 at least 6,141 people died or disappeared along migratory routes on the American continent. Between 2007 and 2021, the Jesuit Migrant Service attended to 1,280 cases of missing migrants in Mexico, of which 71% were from Central America. In Mexico, where many go missing, there is a forensic crisis, with more than 52,000 unidentified bodies lying in mass graves, forensic service facilities, universities and forensic storage centres.
In Honduras alone there are 3,500 people listed as missing.
Sierra adds: “In Honduras, there are no policies in place to deal with irregular migration. There are no specialised services to investigate what has happened to people who disappear or to support their relatives.”
There is no central database of missing people, which “invisibilises the phenomenon”, according to Jérémy Renaux, coordinator for the programme of disappeared people at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Families face obstacles in reporting cases, and then receive no help.
Eva Ramirez, who founded the Comité de familiares de migrantes desaparecidos Amor y Fe, a group of people with missing relatives, explains, “People don’t leave the country because they want to. They leave because they have to. We live in a country that expels people through extreme poverty and a lack of opportunities, and violence, among many other factors.”