In addition to poverty and violence, the pandemic and the destruction of storms Iota and Eta in recent weeks expelled thousands of people from Honduras and Guatemala.
The image of people on the roofs of the houses of communities flooded by Hurricane Eta in Honduras and Guatemala and the delay of the authorities to reach the most remote and marginalized places in these countries, was a bad omen. For connoisseurs of the region, it suggested more migration.
The arrival shortly after Iota, which struck harder, confirmed their fears.
“In Honduras it is very difficult to redo what took me at least 10 years,” complained Lilian Gabriela Santos, installed in one of the San Pedro Sula shelters, in northern Honduras, after having lost everything. “If there is a caravan, I will go,” he said. The destination: United States.
According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), more than 4.3 million Central Americans – 3 million of them Hondurans – were affected by Eta. With the impact of Iota in the same area two weeks later, the figure multiplied.
The destruction It began when Eta made landfall in Nicaragua on November 3. That same day, in the middle of the new coronavirus pandemic, the United States elected its next president, Democrat Joe Biden, who could have a less restrictive policy about migration.
“This is going to be a lot bigger than what we’ve been seeing,” said Jenny Argüello, a sociologist from San Pedro Sula. This scholar of migratory movements predicted that “entire communities are going to leave” because the lack of employment and structural insecurity were compounded by the impact of the coronavirus and destruction by storms. “The outlook is bleak,” he described.
The region’s already volatile economies were damaged by the pandemic and the storm only made things worse. Among the most affected areas is northern Honduras, the most productive region in the country. The Sula Valley had massive crop losses, which has caused several non-governmental organizations to begin to fear a food shortage. And with many companies being damaged, a wave of layoffs is also expected.
Thousands of houses have been affected while gang violence continues. Some residents of San Pedro Sula said that the gangs were taxing boats that were going to rescue people from flooded communities.
For many who already lived on the edge, migrating is almost the only option.
Mauro Verzzeletti, director of the Casa del Migrante in Guatemala City, warned that storms will increase poverty and exodus.
“They have already begun to come,” he said last week after receiving the first group of eight Hondurans who stayed one night at his shelter and continued north.
For Jarlin Antonio Lorenzo, who has lived for several days under an overpass in San Pedro Sula, in a camp without toilets, it is only a matter of time. His house was flooded and he has no choice but to migrate. The idea of how to do it takes shape in his head. “They are going to see all these faces in the caravan,” he said in reference to those who were there like him. “We are leaving because we can no longer endure poverty, hunger.”
Felipe del Cid, continental head of IFRC operations in the Americas, spoke of a “triple emergence” in reference to Eta, the pandemic and the year-long drought that has made subsistence farming impossible. For this reason, both this organization and many others are preparing for possible internal displacement or to other countries.
The arrival of Iota when they were finishing the rescue phase of Eta made things worse. According to the vice president of the Red Cross in San Pedro Sula, Mauricio Paredes, the floods were more severe because the levees that protected the cities were already damaged.
The reasoning of many Hondurans is simple, explained sociologist Argüello. “If you have nothing left, you have to look and people look to the United States,” which is where they have friends or family.
There is also high expectations in the president-elect of the United States. Many believe there will be an immediate change of tone – less aggressiveness against migrants – and that Biden may revoke some of Donald Trump’s most controversial measures, such as the return to Mexico of asylum seekers to await their process there.