Bay of Plenty Times

Storm refugees flee north as an in­com­ing Bi­den’s Amer­ica calls

- U.S. News · Disasters · Society · Immigration · Joe Biden · United States of America · Santos · Lima · Honduras · Central America · International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement · Guatemala · El Salvador · San Pedro Sula · San Pedro · Nicaragua · Panama City · Mexico · Valley · Guatemala City · Americas · Donald Trump · La Lima · International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies · Iota

At a shel­ter in this north­ern Hon­duran city, Lil­ian Gabriela San­tos Sarmiento says back-to-back hur­ri­canes that hit with dev­as­tat­ing fury this month have over­turned her life. Her home in what was once a pretty neigh­bour­hood in nearby La Lima was de­stroyed by flood­ing.

The 29-year-old woman who never fin­ished mid­dle school had man­aged to build a life for her­self, most re­cently clean­ing Covid-19 wards at a lo­cal hos­pi­tal. Now, hav­ing lost every­thing, she says she sees no fu­ture in Hon­duras at her age and with her level of ed­u­ca­tion.

“I think that in Hon­duras it is very dif­fi­cult to do again what it took me 10 years to do,” San­tos said. So her plan is to leave for the United States.

“If there’s a car­a­van, I’m go­ing,” she said, re­fer­ring to the large groups of mi­grants who make the ar­du­ous jour­ney to­gether, of­ten on foot.

In­side shel­ters and im­pro­vised camps across Cen­tral Amer­ica, fam­i­lies who lost every­thing in the se­vere flood­ing set off by the two ma­jor hur­ri­canes are ar­riv­ing at the same con­clu­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Red Cross and Red Cres­cent So­ci­eties, more than 4.3 mil­lion Cen­tral Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing 3 mil­lion Hon­durans, were af­fected by Hur­ri­cane Eta alone. Those num­bers only rose when Iota, an­other Cat­e­gory 4 storm, hit the re­gion last week.

The hur­ri­canes’ de­struc­tion comes on top of the eco­nomic paral­y­sis caused by the Covid-19 pan­demic and the per­sis­tent vi­o­lence and lack of jobs that have driven fam­i­lies north from Gu­atemala, Hon­duras and El Sal­vador in great num­bers dur­ing re­cent years. Add an el­e­ment of hope from the in­com­ing gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Bi­den, and ex­perts pre­dict the re­gion is on the verge of an­other mass mi­gra­tion.

“This is go­ing to be much big­ger than whatwe­have been see­ing,” said Jenny Ar­guello, a so­ci­ol­o­gist in San Pe­dro Sula who stud­ies mi­gra­tion flows. “I be­lieve en­tire com­mu­ni­ties are go­ing to leave.”

“The out­look is heart­break­ing.” It’s still early. Tens of thou­sands re­main in shel­ters, but those along the mi­gra­tion route have al­ready started to see storm vic­tims be­gin to trickle north.

Eta made land­fall on Novem­ber 3 in Nicaragua, leav­ing a path of death and de­struc­tion from Panama to Mex­ico. Iota hit the same stretch of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast on Novem­ber 16, pour­ing more rain on still flooded coun­tries. At least 150 peo­ple were killed and more than 100 re­main miss­ing.

The same day Eta landed, US vot­ers elected Bi­den amid a pan­demic that has dev­as­tated the con­ti­nent for more than eight months. The Demo­crat has promised a more com­pas­sion­ate ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion even as des­per­ate fam­i­lies weigh their op­tions in­side mud-filled Cen­tral Amer­i­can homes.

Among the hard­est-hit ar­eas was Hon­duras’ north, the coun­try’s most pro­duc­tive agri­cul­tural re­gion. The Sula Val­ley re­ported mas­sive crop losses rais­ing fears of food short­ages. Dam­aged busi­nesses mean fewer jobs.

Thou­sands of homes were de­stroyed and the in­fa­mous gang vi­o­lence has not re­lented. Some res­i­dents around San Pe­dro Sula re­ported gangs charg­ing a tax to boats try­ing to res­cue peo­ple from flooded neigh­bour­hoods.

Mauro Verzeletti, di­rec­tor of the Casa del Mi­grante in Gu­atemala City, said the storm­swill in­crease poverty on top of the vi­o­lence peo­ple al­ready faced, forc­ing more to mi­grate.

“They’ve al­ready started to come, it has be­gun,” he said, adding that a group of eight Hon­durans driven out by the storms had ar­rived last week, stayed the night and con­tin­ued on their way.

Jar­lin Antonio Lorenzo has been liv­ing for days un­der a San Pe­dro

Sula over­pass in an en­camp­ment with­out any bath­rooms af­ter be­ing flooded out of his home. He said there was no other op­tion but to mi­grate. “You’re go­ing to see all of these faces in the car­a­van,” he said, point­ing to those around him. “We’re go­ing be­cause we can’t stand the poverty, the hunger.”

Felipe Del Cid, Amer­i­cas chief of op­er­a­tions for the Red Cross, de­scribed a “triple emer­gency” in coun­tries like Hon­duras and Gu­atemala, re­fer­ring to Eta, the pan­demic and the years-long drought that has made even sub­sis­tence agricultur­e im­pos­si­ble across a long swath of the re­gion. He said the Red Cross was pre­par­ing for in­ter­nal dis­place­ment, as well as mi­gra­tion to other coun­tries.

Mean­while, big ex­pec­ta­tions are build­ing for the in­com­ing Bi­den ad­min­is­tra­tion. Adra­matic change in tone to­ward mi­grants is the most im­me­di­ate ex­pec­ta­tion, fol­lowed by hopes for the elim­i­na­tion of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy that made asy­lum seek­ers wait out their cases from Mex­ico. — AP

 ?? Photos / AP ?? Un­der a bridge, food is dis­trib­uted to the newly home­less in San Pe­dro Sula, Hon­duras.
Photos / AP Un­der a bridge, food is dis­trib­uted to the newly home­less in San Pe­dro Sula, Hon­duras.
 ??  ?? A girl drinks juice in a shel­ter af­ter the storms in Hon­duras.
A girl drinks juice in a shel­ter af­ter the storms in Hon­duras.

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