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By Jose Alfredo Coto, Trócaire Honduras
Carlos was 21 years old when he decided to try for a better life. He packed a small bag, said goodbye to his family and left the town of El Progresso in Honduras to begin the notoriously treacherous 2,000 mile journey through Guatemala and Mexico to reach the United States.
His plan was to earn enough money to send home to support his mother and four younger siblings.
That was back in 1998. For 15 years after saying goodbye to her son, Juana Oliva Vásquez didn’t hear anything from him. It was as if he had disappeared off the face of the earth.
Juana spent years trying to locate her son but to no avail. It was through her efforts that she was put into contact with the Honduras National Migrants Forum, an organisation funded by Trócaire.
Honduran families join forces in search of their missing loved ones.
In October of last year, Juana and 19 others left Honduras as part of the Migrant Search Convoy, an initiative organised by the Caravan of Central American Mothers in Search of Missing Migrants. The convoy travelled north in search of information about loved ones who had not been heard of since leaving Honduras.
The group organised press conferences, met with officials in towns along the route and organised searches at places known to be transition points for migrants.
Bottom left: Juana Oliva Vásquez (right) with members of Migrant Search Convoy. Bottom right: Juana speaking at event wearing picture of her missing son, Carlos.
It was on this journey that Juana made a breakthrough.
Prison guards in Mexico’s Northern Prison recognised a photograph of her son. They told Juana that he had been an inmate for eight years but had been moved to a prison in Mexico City in 2009. Juana’s long search for Carlos ended in a Mexican prison late last year.
Her joy at finding her son alive was marred by his imprisonment and the scars across his face from beatings received in prison.
“It was so hard to see my son like that – hurt, injured, wounded,” she says. “It was so terrible.”
Carlos had been travelling through Mexico City when a shootout had broken out nearby. He ran but was stopped by the police and accused of being responsible for the attack. He claims to have been tortured into confessing and was subsequently sentenced to 50 years in prison.
With the continued support of Trócaire’s partners, Juana is campaigning to secure Carlos’s release. Lawyers working on the case are confident that Carlos will be freed.
“He spent 13 years in that prison unjustly,” says Juana. ”His only mistake was to leave his country as a migrant seeking a new life, a new way to live a better life, but they shattered his dreams the moment they arrested him. I still don’t have him here but I know that he will be out soon.”
Young people like Carlos who leave their homes in countries such as Honduras or Guatemala in search of a better life in the United States are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Each year, thousands of people make this treacherous journey. A desperate lack of economic opportunities and ever-worsening violence drive them from their families, but the road they travel is fraught with danger. Thousands of young people leave home only to never be seen again.
Trócaire’s partners continue to offer support to families of migrants who have disappeared. Our partners also continue to work for positive social change in Central America in order to reduce the need for people to leave in search of lives free from violence and poverty.