Two Viruses Threaten Honduran Migrants: Covid-19 and Social Exclusion

Guadalajara, October 25, 2020 – The global pandemic caused by Covid-19 did not prevent a group of Hondurans from trying to leave their country and escape the injustices they experience daily. According to journalistic sources, there were between three thousand and four thousand people who made up this “migrant caravan” and they were split up in Guatemalan territory a few days after the pandemic began.

Insecurity, inequality, and the lack of opportunities that prevent a life with dignity have claimed more lives in Honduras than the Coronavirus. According to data from the Pan American Health Organization, 2,386 people died from coronavirus between March and September of this year. Which contrasts with the number of homicides that occurred this year. According to data from the Honduran National Police, 2,513 people died from homicides. The “virus of injustice” in Honduras has caused more deaths than Covid-19.

Sooner or later the health emergency will pass, in the future, a vaccine will be made and our living habits will adapt to the « new normal ». However, exclusion, violence and social marginalization in Honduran society seem like a « virus » for which until now « there is no vaccine. »

Faced with this bleak outlook, there are those who irresponsibly promote migration as the only way to escape poverty, inequality and insecurity. We all have the right to have a decent life, the option to emigrate should remain an option, not the only alternative. It is necessary to implement public policies that promote a life of dignity that is free of violence so that migration is only one alternative among others.

This caravan, like other previous caravans, was convened through social networks. It was made up of men and women who would rather die from coronavirus than misery. They entered Guatemala irregularly with the intention of crossing into Mexico; however, in a short time, the caravan was dismantled by the Guatemalan army and national police. The government of Guatemala argued that the caravan was a factor in the spread of Covid-19. According to official figures provided by the president of Guatemala, 3,384 Hondurans were repatriated with the help of international organizations. As in other caravans, the figures are not precise. The Honduran vice foreign minister denied the figure provided by President Giammattei, arguing that her country had received only 697 adults and 346 children. Once the caravan was dismantled, it ceased to be news for media and international organizations who also terminated its work. As in other caravans, organizations linked to the Catholic Church continued to provide care to those who requested it.

The “caravans”, rather than offering an escape from poverty, have exhibited the precarious living conditions of many people in Central America and have transferred that precariousness to the United States-Mexican border

The “migrant caravans” from Central America bound for the United States in 2018 attracted the attention of the media, governments, international organizations, human rights organizations, and civil society. That year there were several caravans in October, a month before the US parliamentary elections. During that time Trump hoped to control Congress, basing his electoral strategy on the anti-immigrant discourse that had paid off in the 2016 presidential election. This caravan too coincides with current electoral times in the United States, just about a month before the presidential election where Trump is below the polls.

Two years ago, Republicans failed to control Congress; however, as a consequence of the caravans, the “Stay in Mexico” program, also known in English as “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), emerged, which in our opinion was the first step in dismantling the United States asylum system. Likewise, the Trump administration established agreements with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to stop irregular migration and practically eliminate the possibility of granting asylum into the United States.

It is currently estimated that more than 62,000 people, the vast majority from the northern countries of Central America, live in makeshift camps in various cities in northern Mexico with the hope of seeking refuge in the United States. The health crisis has extended the waiting time for the resolution of their asylum applications in federal courts, which generates great uncertainty for the near future, and it is unlikely that they will be granted asylum.

In our opinion, it is the poverty, uncertainty, and insecurity that our brothers and sisters fled from. They fled through caravans, arrived in Mexico, and now have moved to the « camps » where they await the court’s resolution that allows them to enter in a “Regular” way (complying with regulations) to the United States. Unfortunately, the « virus of injustice » continues to spread and it seems that there are only palliative solutions that do not cure the infection.

In order to provide a humane response that is relevant and gives timely assistance on the route, we want to emphasize and remember that the duty of the states is to guarantee the life, health, and comprehensive well-being of fellow citizens. It is to seek reasonable and comprehensive joint solutions that involve them and make them jointly responsible.

We note that the precarious and discouraging context in Guatemala in the face of displacement and mixed movements is exacerbated by the arrival of the pandemic, we are concerned about the lack of a comprehensive response by the United States which lacks humanitarian responses. We want solutions that do not come from a containment approach, judicialization, and use of national security. We call on people of goodwill to provide charity and solidarity; avoiding all kinds of abuse, violence and discrimination.

We demand just and humanitarian actions from the national immigration authorities in accordance with international conventions and treaties to which the state of Guatemala is a party for adequate protection of migrants and their respective families.

By Carlos Andrés Méndez Chávez and Fr. José Juan Cervantes, c.s.


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