Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Alberto, a 22-year-old factory worker in northern Honduras, is trying to save the equivalent of a year’s salary so he can leave the country.

He’s not the only one: of about 20 classmates from his school, half have already left for the US, and three have lost their lives on the trip, he said.

“This is about getting out of the country as quickly as possible,” says Alberto, who lives outside the city of San Pedro Sula. “Honestly, I do not foresee anything productive from being here.”

Central Americans have been leaving home for the United States for decades for a myriad of reasons, from civil war to a lack of jobs. In recent years, some have chosen to travel in larger groups known as caravans that can make the trip safer and cheaper, but have also attracted political attention in the US.

Their numbers are growing. In the 2021 financial year, US border patrols encountered more than 1.7 million migrants at the southwestern land border, the highest annual total in recent years. Nearly 320,000 of them were from Honduras – equivalent to 3 percent of the country’s population.

The increase in the number of Hondurans leaving has coincided with more than a decade of political instability, experts said, including a military coup in 2009, allegations of electoral fraud and a suppression of protests in 2017, and a decline in the rule of law in recent years.

The country has the second highest poverty rate in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the World Bank, with unemployment, underemployment and low wages widespread.

More than half of high school students hope to leave the country, according to researchers at the Observatory of International Migrations at Flacso Honduras.

“Fundamentally, they see migration as the only way to improve their economic situation, or the way to get out of uncertainty,” said Rolando Sierra, director of Flacso Honduras. “The socio-political situation in the last 10 years is what has caused more migration.”

The departure of so many people, especially younger people, will present a major challenge for the country’s next president, Xiomara Castro, who will take office this month after a major landslide in November. On migration she has promise to create jobs, reduce commissions charged for overpayments and work to protect migrants leaving the country.

The US has said it wants to address the root causes of migration in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, collectively known by the US as the Northern Triangle. Kamala Harris, US Vice President, published a 20-page plan in July which set out a vision for the strategy, which focuses on tackling corruption, inequality and a lack of rule of law.

But little new U.S. funding has materialized, and reducing migration means addressing deep structural issues at a local level in a way that may not fit political timelines, according to experts.

“No matter how much money you invest, no matter who is president in Honduras or in the United States, it will take years to address truly irregular migration from Honduras,” said Ariel Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “We need to set realistic goals to get things done.”

The US government recently said it would work with Mexico to expand President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s key social programs to the Central American countries. The programs provide scholarships to young people to work or to farmers to plant trees, but have been criticized at home for poor design and even cause deforestation.

Economic factors are consistently cited by migrants as their main motivation for departure, including in a recent recording by a group of institutions, including the UN World Food Program and MPI.

Those economic factors are often also intertwined with problems of violence, corruption and, increasingly, climate change, which can lead to crop failure or severe hurricanes. The loss of so many young Hondurans also weighs on the local economy. By 2030, the economically active population will shrink, rather than grow, if current migration trends continue, Sierra of Flacso Honduras said.

Maria, 24, who asked not to use her real name, was internally displaced in Honduras after her husband was killed by gangs for failing to make extortion payments for the bus they were driving.

“Everything you earn is for them [the gangs], “she said.” You might have to like it a little… these people do not have a heart. “

Even if she sells the bus, the gang said it would take the money. She decided to flee her neighborhood in the industrial city of San Pedro Sula and lost her source of income to support two children.

Maria has been receiving financial help for several months from a Mexican program called Young People Building The Future. The initiative is intended to get young people into work, although she said she used the funds to study and care for her children. The aid was temporary, and leaving for the US was still an option, Maria added.

The sooner the US, Mexico and Castro’s new government took up the issue and other structural problems such as corruption, experts said, the more likely it was to succeed.

“We will . . . must see how the new administration manages expectations of change and transformation, ”Sierra said. “It has to give answers relatively quickly and depending on that, there will or will be no more caravans.”

But Alberto, the factory worker, does not think it’s worth the wait for Castro or the US’s plans to realize, emphasizing how difficult it will be to change things.

“To take the country back, see what it’s like now, I do not think she can take it back so quickly,” he said. “The situation is getting worse every day. . . energy, water, everything is sky high and honestly the minimum wage does not cover it. ”

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