In Honduras, most caravan returnees hope to try again
San Pedro Sula, Honduras – The Metropolitan Grand Central bus terminal in this city where the migrant caravan traveling through Mexico originated more than three weeks ago is a place of crossing destinies for Hondurans dreaming of seeking a better life in the United States.
Some of the dozens of people sleeping on the concrete floor or outside on the grass underneath palm trees bathed by the light of street lamps are awaiting buses to the Guatemalan border to begin the journey north. Others are arriving after failing to complete the trip and are being ferried back to the precarious lives they left behind.
Hundreds of the mostly Honduran migrants who set out with the caravan that has traversed hundreds of miles through three countries before arriving in Mexico City this week have returned home, according to the Mexican government. Some grew disillusioned. Others simply wore out. Still others were detained and returned, or gave up on waiting for possible asylum in Mexico and accepted bus rides back home.
Disembarking at the bus station in San Pedro Sula, nearly all of those returning said the same thing: Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but they intend to try again.
“I would go 30 times more if possible,” said Daniel Castaneda, an 18-year-old from the central city of Comayagua. He was detained shortly after migrants in a caravan following in the footsteps of the first one clashed with police on a bridge on the Mexican border with Guatemala late last month.
“I can’t say when, but I am going to keep going. … This country is going to be left empty,” he said.
Reny Maudiel a fresh-faced 16-year-old in a green T-shirt, a mop of curly hair sticking skyward from his head, said he was turned off by the violence of last month’s border clashes. He was also exhausted, and his feet hurt – but already his mind was turning northward.
“I hope another opportunity emerges,” he said.
While U.S. President Donald Trump seized on the caravan as a campaign issue for Tuesday’s midterm elections and suggested that criminals had infiltrated the group, the migrants say they are fleeing poverty, lack of jobs and rampant violence.
In a country that is one of the world’s deadliest by homicide rates, San Pedro Sula is among the most violent cities as the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 street gang, fights street-by-street with the rival 18th Street gang for territory. It’s also seen a harsh crackdown by security forces including documented abuses. Nationwide nearly two-thirds of Hondurans, or some 5.5 million people, live in poverty, according to the World Bank.
Pablo Alba choked up thinking about how his 11-year-old son wrapped his arms around his neck and begged to be taken on the journey north. Alba said no, not wanting the boy to risk the arduous trek.
“If there must be suffering, I will go alone,” he said, recalling that Oct. 13 day when he set off to join the caravan with only the clothes on his back.
The 64-year-old had never thought about emigrating before because he had always been able to find work. A trained veterinarian, he ended up selling tamales cooked by his landlady, and it wasn’t nearly enough to support his family.
Mexican authorities say some 3,230 migrants from the caravan have requested refuge. Alba used to be one of them. But shut in at an immigration center and unable to communicate with his children – he had no money or cell phone – he dropped his application and agreed to return to Honduras. Some 480 others have done the same, according to the Mexican government.
He intends to try again in March – only this time he will bring his kids.
According to data from Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, on average 136 Honduran migrants per day have been returned to their country this year. Women and children are taken directly to a shelter in San Pedro Sula. Men go by bus to the Caribbean coastal city of Omoa, and from there are transferred to the San Pedro terminal.
Rumors that yet more caravans will form are flying in every corner of Honduras.
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