Names and places are changed due to security reasons.
“Maria” is a tall, 37-year-old woman, with her hair tied tightly away from her face. She brings a kitchen chair out into the back yard and sits down. She has an apron on and her hands are red after doing the dishes.
“It’s been four terrible years,” she says quietly.
We meet her and her family in a house they rent. For safety reasons, we cannot say exactly where in Honduras they live.
The house consists of a room with a kitchenette, and a small kitchen table with a sofa and a shelf with a TV at the other end. There is one bedroom that is filled with clothes, mattresses and some blankets. They also have a small bathroom.
Had to flee
She was young when she became a mother, and for many years had sole responsibility for her nine children. Her goal has always been to ensure that they receive an education so that they can work, support themselves and have good lives.
“We farmed, hunted and fished. We didn’t have a lot of material things, but we owned our own house and had good plot of land. We were happy,” “Maria” says.
One day some men came to their home and said that they wanted to buy their farm. When the family refused to sell, one of her brothers was shot. Although he survived, the family saw no other option, under this duress, than to leave their home.
“I had no choice, I had to take my children and flee”.
“We are leaving tonight”
One day she talked to someone who told her how easy it was to get a job in the United States, if she was able to get in. Perhaps, she thought, she could try to go there, make some money and then send for the children later.
She started inquiring about who could help her get into the United States. In September of 2016 she was put in touch with a smuggler, also known as a "coyote".
“He wanted $5,000 USD for the job. That was all of our savings.”
She was told to pack a small bag with five changes of clothes and to be prepared to leave on short notice. One month later, on a Sunday, the phone rang and a voice said, "We are leaving tonight."
“When the men came to pick me up a few hours later, the children broke down crying and my son said over and over that he could not understand how I could just leave. But I left.”
Three hundred in a container
Even though she travelled to the United States with the best of intentions, she is burdened by her guilt today.
After many hours in a bus, she arrived in Guatemala and continued on to Mexico. Once there, men and women had to sleep in the same room, and she did not feel safe. Three days later, 23 adults and children were loaded in a van. They travelled a great distance before they were discovered by the Mexican border police.
“The driver asked us to jump out of the car and scatter up the mountain. It was completely dark, we were bitten by mosquitoes and torn up by thorns.”
A new start
She crossed the border to the United States on foot, and was discovered by a police patrol.
“By then I was so tired.”
Following her arrest by the United States Border Patrol, she spent four months in prison, most of the time in Houston, before she was deported.
She was sent home by plane, and from the airport she was ushered to the reception centre for deported persons in San Pedro Sula. There, she first encountered the our staff:
“NRC helped me when I came back with two empty hands. And you have been there for us since. I am very grateful for that. Thanks to NRC, the kids and I have gotten a new start.”
“Maria” was both dehydrated and scared when she returned. She did not know what to do or where to go’, says Elsy Aleman, who received “Maria” and other deportees who arrived by plane from the United States.
When “Maria” was sent back to Honduras, she was destitute. She asked us to help her find a safe place where she could live with her children. We found a rental house.
“She was desperate to visit her children and relatives,” says Elsy Aleman who works for our programme in San Pedro Sula. "We informed her that her children were at her uncle’s house. We said that if she wanted to visit them, it could be dangerous. If she did, she could not stay there for long.”
We provided “Maria” and her children with money for transportation. Her injured brother also had to be moved to safety, and preferably somewhere far away. In order to send him by plane, he first had to receive identity documents. We helped him during that three months process. “Maria” and her children have now also received their identity documents.
Today, “Maria” is looking for work. Meanwhile, she sells her baked goods. “Our programme supports the family with food in difficult periods. This enables the children to continue their studies, and in the long-run they will be able to support themselves,” Elsy says.