| 14.9°C Dublin

'Mothers are in grief - they don't know what became of their children'


Doris Yamilet Mesa Zabala holds a picture of her missing brother Marvin Leonel. Photo: Frank McGrath

Doris Yamilet Mesa Zabala holds a picture of her missing brother Marvin Leonel. Photo: Frank McGrath

Doris Yamilet Mesa Zabala holds a picture of her missing brother Marvin Leonel. Photo: Frank McGrath

The last time Doris Yamilet Mesa Zabala (48) saw her brother alive was 28 years ago. Marvin Leonel Mesa Zabala left Honduras for the US in search of a better life. He never arrived.

"We never received any notice from him," Ms Zabala said. "It doesn't matter how many years I have to search, I will never lose hope. I think he's still alive."

For as many as 100,000 Hondurans every year, the only hope of securing a job and future for their families is to flee the country. One in six families relies on remittances sent home, but the trip is fraught with danger.

Many never reach their final destination, dying en route in the rainforests or deserts that lie between Honduras and the US.

Others are killed by gangs, known as 'coyotes', or human traffickers - 72 people were massacred in a 2010 incident.

Some are shot dead by armed guards protecting trains while others suffer horrific injuries, often losing limbs. Others drown.

Rosaneli Santos works with the migration group Fonamihn and, since 2010, it has worked with forensic anthropologists to try to put names to unidentified bodies. One morgue in Texas cannot put a name to 900 people who have passed through its doors.

"We are really worried because every year, between 80,000 and 100,000 people leave the country," she said.

"It's very dangerous because many become victims of organised crime and traffickers. Mothers are in perpetual grief because they don't know what has happened to them. Children as young as 10 leave for the US, and what happens is the gangs will sometimes leave the child at the border, and call the parents and demand more money."

The group is working on 580 cases involving missing migrants. Thousands more are in detention centres, awaiting deportation.

The cost of getting to the US is between $5,000 and $8,000 (€4,700 and €7,500). Moneylenders will provide the funds, but will take the family home as collateral. If the borrower never arrives in the US, the home is seized.

Every year, a caravan of mothers travels from Central American countries, including Honduras, to Mexico. They visit dozens of towns and villages, displaying pictures of their missing loved ones in the hope it might help find them.

Ms Zabala took part last year, and said it was a "bittersweet experience". She is worried about plans by US President Donald Trump to curb migration.

"It was a blessing to have the chance to take part," she said. "It was a bittersweet experience, having companionship with people who have missing family, but it was also hard because of the experience of migrants and women forced into prostitution and the trauma of children being treated badly by coyotes.

"For migrants, Mr Trump is a big crisis. Mr Trump means chaos. Families send money home and if Mr Trump sends them back, it will cause great hardship and suffering. The Americans elected the wrong person, even the name is horrible."

Irish Independent