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Migrant Voices from Central America

By Ash Kosiewicz
Nelson Chavez joined the migrant caravan along with 80 people from his community in El Salvador. Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

Inside a small town on the Guatemala-Mexico border, thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers traveling to the US are coming by something hard to find on their perilous journey north: a hot meal.

Nelson Chavez, who works for a honey producer, decided to join the migrant caravan after seeing it on TV. In those images, he saw his way out. He feared going it alone, so he decided to travel with 80 others from his community so they could maintain some semblance of safety far away from home.

What was his reason for leaving? He told us there were few if any opportunities to make a decent living in El Salvador to support his family. “I bottle the honey and sell it from my home,” Chavez says. “But my income only covers half of what my family needs.”

After traveling by bus to the Guatemala-Mexico border, he sits down to eat a hot meal of scrambled eggs, plantains, refried beans and tortillas in the town of Tecún Umán. Oxfam and our local partner COCIGER (Citizens Convergence for Risk Management) are supporting a local restaurant to cook and serve the food. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided to migrants in the town.

A server from a local restaurant dishes up a meal of eggs, plantains, refried beans and tortillas to a member of the migrant caravan. Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

Last month, several hundred migrants—fleeing violence, poverty, food insecurity and other hardships—departed together from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on a trek north toward the US. Word of the caravan spread throughout the region, and numbers quickly swelled into the thousands. Tens of thousands have now crossed into Mexico and more caravans are expected in the near future.

At the border, Oxfam and COCIGER have been providing hygiene kits; food packages for children, including vitamins and rehydration drinks; awnings to protect families from the sun; as well as showers, latrines, sleeping mats and clean drinking water. For those arriving at migrant shelters in the town, we are providing shelters with mattresses, water filters and kitchen equipment.

Some migrants in Tecún Umán describe horrific experiences that have caused them to leave their home countries. Fernando Silva (not his real name), his wife and their nine-year-old son left their home in Honduras with nothing more than their documents and a single change of clothes each.

Back home they made $5 a day working on a pineapple farm. But they could rarely get more than a day’s work in a week, which means they had to pull their son out of school because they couldn't afford it. A relative of Silva’s was raped by a gang member; after testifying against the perpetrator, Fernando is now facing death threats. The combination of these factors is why they are now trying to reach Canada.

The hands of Fernando Silva, who traveled with his wife and son from Honduras. His name has been changed to protect his identity. Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

“I’d like to send a message to the people who are afraid of us,” he says. “Look at my hands. These are not the hands of a criminal. They are the hands of a person who works.”

Oxfam has called on Mexican authorities to grant ‘prima facie’ recognition to the migrant caravan. In accordance with Mexican and international laws, this would allow refugee status to be recognized without requiring people arriving en masse to present their cases individually. We have also called on the governments of Guatemala, Mexico and the US to protect those who cannot return to their country of origin because of threats to their lives and guarantee that children will not be separated from their families.

“What we have in common is the necessity to migrate,” Chavez said. “The majority of us do hard work like construction and farm labor, and we are poor. We live on what we make each day …The poor people of the world need the support of the powerful.”

Support Oxfam’s efforts to provide assistance to vulnerable people in Guatemala and around the world. Donate today.

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