Unemployment, danger and violence pushing Hondurans to flee to US

3 min

Tegucigalpa (AFP)

Choking back tears, Glenda Lagos laments the departure of her teenage daughter to join the Honduran migrant caravan heading to the United States despite threats from President Donald Trump to turn them back at the border.

Like thousands of other Hondurans, Belckys Lagos, 17, fled unemployment, danger and violence in the Central American country, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

"Here there's no work and a lot of violence," Glenda Lagos told AFP about her gang-plagued "Los Pinos" neighborhood in the east of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.

The caravan of 2,000 people set off on October 13 from the violent city of San Pedro Sula, 180 kilometers (110 miles) to the north of Tegucigalpa, in search of the "American Dream."

Along the way, many, like Belckys Lagos, joined the swarm, which has swelled to some 7,000 people, according to United Nations figures.

But they have had to contend with threats from the White House to command the military to block them at the Mexican border, as Trump claims there are "criminals and terrorists" among them.

Even Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez has accused opposition politicians of helping the migrants to try to make the county "ungovernable."

Many of the migrants have told AFP they're heading to the US in the hope of finding the work that has proved scant in their homeland, and to escape gang and drug-trafficking violence that runs amok in Honduras, seemingly with impunity.

- No help -

While her daughter treks on in hopes of a better future, 45-year-old Lagos makes do in her five square meter (54 square feet) hut built from scraps of wood, concrete and corrugated metal on a steep hill accessed by steps crafted from slate.

On the outskirts of her neighborhood, a group of young gang members scatter from a corner known for drug dealing, after mistaking a vehicle for a police patrol.

"I would have gone too with two kids of six and 12 but I had a problem," admitted Lagos, who nonetheless says she would ask her daughter to come home because "things are getting ugly" with Trump's threats.

Lagos lives with her six children, including two sons of 20 and 22, although their shack has just two beds.

She says the government "isn't helping and doesn't look after the poor," who have to make do as they can. She gets by working as a nanny to a neighbor's two-year-old for $82 a month, with which she needs to feed her six children.

At the bottom of the slope leading up to Lagos's house lives Luisa Mejia, 66, whose 19-year-old grandson Carlos Lagos also joined the caravan.

"I hope he'll help me, he says he'll help me," said Mejia, who lives with her 25-year-old daughter Julissa in a mud house covered with a corrugated metal sheet.

"What we do is rustle up tortillas so we don't go hungry. With what we make in a day, we eat," said Mejia.

- 'Prejudice' -

Linder Reyes, a 25-year-old working for a charity that provides humanitarian aid, says unemployment and violence are the biggest factors in driving people out of the country, as well as domestic discrimination.

"Many communities are classified as high-risk and (employers) hold a prejudice against us, that we're criminals, gang members and thieves," said Reyes.

But if Honduras could provide "worthy and quality employment, people wouldn't leave."

According to Honduras's Employment Ministry, just seven percent of people are out of work; the main problem is under-employment that sees some 44 percent of people don't earn enough to provide basic necessities for their families.

Seven out of every 10 people live below the poverty line while the murder rate is 43 per 100,000 citizens, according to the national university.