Every day, a special airplane, departing from Houston, Texas, lands at an airport outside the second largest city in Honduras, San Pedro Sula. The passengers are Hondurans who had risked everything to go to the US. Now, they have been sent back home to poverty and violence.
Persistent violence and poverty has long caused people to leave El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the countries known as the Northern Triangle. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 294,000 asylum seekers and refugees from the Northern Triangle were registered globally as of the end of 2017. This is a 58 per cent increase from the year before, and sixteen times more people than in 2011. Many more who try to cross into the United States are deported.
Violence, poverty and lack of security
Being granted a green card is the dream of many, but today US borders are as good as sealed. In addition, the effort to deport illegal immigrants has increased.
Nevertheless, violence, poverty and a lack of security are forcing many, especially people from Central America, to attempt the journey North. Even though more people from the Northern Triangle now choose to migrate to Mexico instead, the US is still the ultimate goal for many.
Back on Honduran soil
The plane lands just after noon. This day, 136 people disembark, 118 of them men.
Previous American administrations had, in years past, set policies aimed at addressing relief to these afflicted communities, and as a result, people who had crossed the border over the years were able to join established communities of their legally protected countrymen. Some of these deportees are not recent arrivals, and may have, in fact been in the US for years, in addition to have even paid US taxes. They have settled down and raised families that they have now been forced to leave behind. Some have had to leave a good job or their own businesses. They have probably also been sending money to poor relatives back in Honduras, and in this way, contributed to keeping the Honduran economy afloat.
Others are arrested after shorter stays or have been stopped by the US border patrol before they even managed to enter the country. Many are young people.
Support for migrants
The deported people enter a brown and white building, the "Centro de atencion al migrante returnado (CAMR)", a support centre for returned migrants, established in 2007. The centre is run by the Honduran government, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Several of those working at the centre have received training from our Honduras country team
We are allowed to be present on this day but are not allowed to take photos.
The deported people are first brought into a large room with rows of chairs. A portrait of Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, is hanging on one wall. On another, a quote from the bible, Matthew 25:35, is posted: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in".
Information and protection
"When first arriving at the centre, everyone needs to register, and if they do not already have an ID card, they are provided one. During this initial phase, we identify those in need of protection," says Elsy Carolina Aleman, one member of our team in Honduras.
She says that one of the most important things we do is give the people who are deported information and legal aid.
"We advise people about their rights and promote that they feel safe and protected after their deportation. If there's anyone who can't travel back home because their lives are threatened, we help them find somewhere new to live. We also provide food for those unable to provide for themselves, and in addition, we may help people receive psychological help."
There are three support centres like this in Honduras. One of them is for children. The centre where we are only serves arriving adults over the age of 18, all of them from the US. According to UNHCR, some 15,862 children from the Northern Triangle of Central America were deported back to their country of origin in 2017.
The ride home
The violent gangs in Honduras and elsewhere in the Northern Triangle came to exist as a result of the civil wars preceding the turn of the millennium. Poverty and large economic and social inequality led to their growth in size and influence. Mass deportations from the US near the end of the 1990's led to more people being recruited into the gangs.
Today, the per capita murder rate in Honduras persists near a global high. The Honduran population is terrorised by-and-large, with extortion, kidnappings and corruption rife. In addition to this the country struggles with poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunity. These are all reasons why so many people risk everything to pursue a life elsewhere.
The deported who arrive at the support centre are provided with some sustenance. They are given the opportunity to shower and make phone calls. On a chair next to the exit, a man doles out money for the bus ride home.
Despite the dangers of the journey and the possibility of deportation, the continuous flow of refugee and migrant children from not only Honduras, but El Salvador and Guatemala as well, toward the USA has not slowed down.
Research conducted by our team in Honduras has shown that 62 per cent of those who have received assistance from our organisation are men, and the majority of those who have received assistance are between the ages of 18 and 30 years old. Of those assisted, most stated that death threats were the main reason for their displacement, followed by survival of an attempted assassination and extortion.