“In Honduras, young people are surviving day to day”

Alianza Americas organized the webinar: Why are young people from Honduras leaving the country? To answer this question we invited Karen Valladares, Executive Secretary of the National Forum for Migrations in Honduras (Foro Nacional para las Migraciones en Honduras) and José Guadalupe Ruelas, Director of Casa Alianza Honduras. This is a summary:

From left to right: Hazel Contreras, Alianza Americas regional coordinator in Central America; Guadalupe Ruelas, director of Casa Alianza en Honduras; Karen Valladares; executive secretary of the National Forum for Migrations in Honduras

What is the education system like in Honduras? Are students finishing high school? What is happening in terms of higher education?

Karen: The educational system does not guarantee access to education to all youth, neither in rural nor urban areas. Access is more limited in rural areas. Very few are able to graduate from high school and acquire a technical or university degree. All higher education takes place in cities.

José Guadalupe: There are 20 universities in Honduras and a bit over 90 thousand young people studying. That is a minority. People between 12 and 30 years of age are over 70 percent of the population. There is a serious gap in the middle grades. In primary education the coverage is 94% of children but, in middle and high school, it is only 31%. Sixty nine percent of teenagers do not finish their schooling. Most of them have to work. There is a high dropout rate. An educational funnel is being generated. In average, we have 7 years of schooling for the Honduran population. This generates a very strong pressure on employment opportunities. Young people are dedicated to finding their daily survival. This feeds into the reasons people migrate, they don’t migrate to study, they migrate to survive. With their schooling and other abilities, they are unable to survive. The American Dream is to survive. What has the country done? It has opened opportunities in vocational education, but the Institution was closed due to corruption. Our technical skills and employability are low.  

What job opportunities exist in Honduras for youth between 18 and 30 years old?

Karen: Since they do not have an academic degree, young people lack access to a fulfilling job. In order to find a job in government, you need a “godparent”. Most of the population is young, but businesses want people with experience. Subemployment is also problematic. The biggest employers are the private sector and the government. Wages differences are gigantic. If a young person was not able to finish high school, she will not find a job making more than 100 lempiras a day (approximately US$ 4), with that you cannot even eat three times a day.

José Guadalupe: The State employs 195 thousand persons, maquilas employ 120 thousand persons. The rest have to make a living as they are able to, in the private sector, with small business, or just trying to make do in the informal sector. We know that a teenager begging in the streets can make 200 lempiras a day. Having employment doesn’t entail any economic security. That is why people with jobs still join migrant caravans. People here fight for survival. People see that families of those who migrate live better lives here with remittances. It is not the same to make a living cleaning houses here as it is in Houston. Many dream of becoming entrepreneurs, but violence and insecurity make it impossible.

Which is happening with violence that young people experience in Honduras and how does that factor impact their decision to leave the country?  

Karen: Since 2016, we have been carrying out research for the Centroamerican Fund for Women and accompanying people who have been returned to Honduras. We observe that many people leave because they live in high-risk areas. Migrating often is driven by fear, they are running away from the gang control and harrassment. Small business owners leave when they are extorted and can no longer pay. Some neighborhoods are simply not safe to enter, not even with the police. But there are other conditions driving people to see migration as the only option. If someone gets sick, they cannot get medical attention.  On the other hand, fleeing in a caravan is relatively less expensive, and they can hitchhike or beg to make ends meet. For many young people, there are no options here. We know cases of young people who migrated and who were assassinated upon their return.

José Guadalupe: Casa Alianza identified 120 trafficking cases, only one of them was prosecuted. There are many cases in which we have tried to offer protection. We were doing it with funds from the State Department. Now, the aid was suspended and those victims are going to be left without protection. We are seeking other funding sources, but if there are no options for protection, they are going to have to leave. International support for “security” has no impact, it doesn’t change the relationships between the communities and the police. It is the same police- now with better weapons and vehicles, but it is the same Police. And there are neighborhoods that are no go zones. If you are robbed, threaten, no one is going to do anything for you. In Honduras, there is a housing deficit of 800 thousand homes, but there are 90 thousand abandoned houses due to forced internal displacement. The State has tried to clean up the police. But it is a systemic problem. Every month, in Honduras 60 young persons are killed, there is a femicide every 14 hours.

Which are the most important differences that you observe between young women and men leaving Honduras?

Karen: Many young women are single mothers or who have responsabilities at home. We observe young women in traditional roles, without male cooperation. Families prefer to offer education to their boys than to their girls.

José Guadalupe:  Overall, more men than women are assassinated in the country.  But the cultural understanding of women being killed is different. Violence against women is normalized and even justified. Women are exposed to specific types of violence, to which men are not exposed. Women have different well-founded fears and sometimes greater fears. The impact of violence on them is much deeper. The gender variable in violence is not addressed. Sixty-two percent of homes in Honduras are led by women.

What information do young Hondurans have about the trip to the US? Do they understand the distances that they will be traveling? Do they know the dangers of the trip? What expectations or information do they have when they arrive in Mexico or in the US?

Karen: young people simply react to the situation. They may not have a lot of information. Some do understand, but decide that hunger and violence pose a greater risk than remaining. Most of them travel with just a backpack, perhaps a change of clothes, without any money. Social networks are key, the youth have greater access. They find out when there will be a caravan, and they join it. They travel without knowing their rights and understanding the trip. The situation of the country forces them to leave.

José Guadalupe: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a report described that a very small number of those who leave Honduras request asylum in Mexico. This is terrible. They leave without information. Why are we not providing that information? Why are we only hearing about to the dangers of migration and emotional manipulation? These situations aren’t happening by accident.  People are profiting from deportation. If we had access to education, jobs, safety, and a response to gender-based violence, we could think about rooting processes in these countries. Lack of information is part of the strategy. What are we going to do about that?

You also work with persons who were deported. What do you observe among the deported youth? Is there a difference between those who are deported and those who seek assistance for voluntary return to their country?

Karen: In working with deportees, we we identified employment and safety as two key challenges. The youth need psycho-social support. Young people who are deported have little information about the programs that are available. In response to the 2018 caravan, 5 programs were offered: safe return, humanitarian aid for return, social protection in places of origin, employment opportunities, entrepreneurship projects, What was the scope or impact of these projects? Who were the beneficiaries? How and when will the returns come to an end? We do not know.

José Guadalupe: Deportees are stigmatized when the return to their communities. People believe that through migration they became delinquents. In the case of women, there are many questions about their sexual lives. Campaigns against migration contribute to these negative stereotypes. When they return, they find hostile environments that do not understand them. There is post-traumatic stress because they failed. There strong stigmatization of mothers. They are not welcomed in the North, they suffer in the journey, and when they return they are not welcomed either. People seek out the programs announced by the government, but they can’t find them. I am concerned about the impact of the suspension of aid from the US, in the receiving centers for people who are deported, which are funded by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). What do we understand as safe returns?

In the Q & A:   

José Guadalupe: What we need is orderly and safe countries. Not safe and orderly migration. They are undocumented, not because they want to but because they are not issued the documents that they need. If we wanted to create roots among the youth, we would have to increase the offerings and quality of education. We have a hospital-based health system. We need to transfer to a human security model-  based on prevention and where crimes are prosecuted and punished.

Karen: Abuse in the migratory route is not only physical but also emotional. Many women indicated that they were victims of kidnappings. Many suffered at the hands of their coyotes. There are diseases which aggravate or generate during migration, not only sexually transmitted or psychological diseases but others.  We have very little data on Garífuna migration. This is an issue that remains invisible from a policy perspective.

Jose Guadalupe: Caravans help make visible the anonymous exodus that has goes on constantly and has not stopped. We have to be careful to not stigmatize or label migration.

This webinar, organized by Alianza Americas, is part of our efforts to raise awareness of the causes of migration, taking a deeper look at the specific issues in each country. This webinar brought voices from Honduras to reflect on the the implications for youth of the Central American exodus.