The situation in Choluteca, Honduras, near the border with Nicaragua, is extremely difficult for approximately 500 migrants who are blocked in the country due to movement restrictions in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them are from Cuba, Haiti and several African countries (such as Ghana, Kenya, etc.) and travel with their family for months, crossing different borders on their way to the United States. One of their main concerns is to maintain their anonymity and remain “invisible” to the institutions, agencies or governments, in order to avoid being detained and deported during their migration journey to the north.
Each stage of their path poses new challenges depending on the countries they cross. Families grow along the journey with the birth of new members who, sometimes, cannot accompany their parents on their way to the north because of nationality laws of the countries where the children are born.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, these migrants have faced new risks in their migration journey. According to Alexei Gastro, Secretary General of the Honduran Red Cross: “They risk being stranded at the borders of different countries, as is the case in Choluteca, with limited health care infrastructure. They are also exposed to human trafficking, assaults, rapes, and payments to ‘coyotes’ to guide them on their route”.
According to Alexei Gastro, another fundamental challenge for migrants is to conserve their financial resources to complete their migratory journey: “For them it is vital to maintain the budget allocated to this migratory project, so they cannot afford long stays at any point along the route, because they could run out of resources to continue their journey to the north”.
The Honduran Red Cross is providing support to the migrants blocked in Choluteca to try to alleviate the basic needs of migrants who hope to be able to follow their route when the restrictions on movement imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.
The Honduran Red Cross is providing support to the migrants blocked in Choluteca in order to meet their basic needs. Those migrants continue to hope to be able to continue their journey up north when the movement restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted. The Honduran Red Cross identified the need to set up shelters to accommodate those migrants, who often have to stay with Honduran families, or in hotels in the area. Other services being provided to migrants include health assistance to prevent coronavirus and dengue; distribution of food, hygiene kits, drinking water, and biosecurity supplies; restoration of family contacts; access to the Internet; psychosocial support, etc.
Language is an additional issue because most of the migrants barely speak Spanish or English, making it difficult for Red Cross teams to provide, for example, psychosocial support. According to Dunia Varela, Health Officer at the Honduran Red Cross: “The difficulty of language, the masks and the PPE (personal protective equipment) we have to wear during the COVID-19 outbreak, makes it even more difficult to empathize with migrants, because they cannot see our faces or expressions, although in most cases it is very gratifying when we manage to get them to open up to us and share what worries them”.
The Red Cross is particularly concerned about the situation of migrants and voluntary returnees to countries of origin in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is working hard to alleviate their suffering and meet their basic needs in transit countries and at the borders.