Read caption The neighborhood (Villa Cristiana) is controlled by the Mara 13. The armed group does not allow access to the school of children living in the contiguous neighbourhood, as a measure of control. Photo: Antonio Aragon Renuncio/NRC

Violence forces people to flee

David Garcia|Published 12. May 2017
HONDURAS: Families are at risk of forced displacement in San Pedro Sula, as criminal gangs dominate large areas of the country’s main cities, where poverty is rampant.

Widespread violence has created a protection crisis in Honduras. Forced displacement, threats, kidnappings, sexual violence and homicides are common.

"Many want to flee, but they don’t know where to go. We don’t know what to do. We are worried about our children," says a mother living Bordo Sanata Ana.

The Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) estimates that violence has displaced more than 200.000 people within Honduras. Families fleeing violence often leave under the cover of night, not allowing them to take many personal belongings. Children, elderly people and mothers flee in an attempt to save their lives.

"The world cannot stand still watching people being killed, or keep silent when criminal gangs are controlling territories through fear. The international community needs to scale up its response to escalating violence caused by organized crime," says Christian Visnes, Country Director for NRC in Honduras.

Honduras' second largest city, San Pedro Sula, has the second highest murder rate in the world, with 111 out of 100,000 inhabitants being killed every year. Around 1000 families are now at risk of forced displacement in a neighborhood called Bordo Santa Ana.

99 years old Elena fled her home together with her husband. “I don’t want to die in that neighborhood," she says, now displaced in San Pedro Sula.

"Clashes between gangs happen almost daily. Bullets fly over our houses and a local leader was killed," one of the locals says. Over 198 persons have been displaced over the last few weeks.

The national Ombudsman estimates that over 80 per cent of human rights violations in Honduras remain in impunity. Other estimates suggest that 97 per cent of murders remain unsolved, leaving armed groups and organized gangs with a almost total impunity to continue their grave violations of human rights.

At present, the Honduran government acknowledges the gravity of the situation, but has not been able to prevent displacement or respond systematically to the immediate needs of displaced families.

A legal framework that specifically promote the protection of - and assistance to - displaced people is urgent. The violence and the government's inability to protect the population makes many choose to flee the country. Most flee north to Mexico and the United States, or they go to Costa Rica and Panama.

Many of those fleeing are children and young people -often unaccompanied. The US government recorded more than 10,468 cases of unaccompanied Honduran children crossing the border between October 2015 and September of 2016 – nearly double the 2015 figure and more than six times the number in 2013.

"We must increase our humanitarian support for all the civilians affected by violence. This needs to happen now," undrelines Visnes. 

San Pedro Sula (Chamelecón - sector) Homicide near by the primary school.
Read caption San Pedro Sula (Chamelecón - sector) Homicide near by the primary school. Photo: Antonio Aragon Renuncio
Facts:
  • The National Police of Honduras estimates that the two largest criminal gangs – Mara Salvatrucha 13, also known as MS13, and Barrio 18, or simply, 18 – boast approximately 25,000 members.
  • The murder rate of 58 per 100,000 inhabitants makes Honduras among the three most violent countries in the world outside of regular war zones.
  • NRC has been working in Honduras since 2014, with programmes in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.
  • 198 persons from Bordo Santa Ana have been assisted by NRC.
  • 49 in Bordo Santa Ana have been looted and destroyed after the displacement.
  • According to a NRC recent survey, most of the displaced people are in need of clothing, food, shelter and protection.