SOS Children’s Villages Honduras is caring for unaccompanied children who have been sent back to their homeland
Unaccompanied children who attempted to join a migrant caravan to the Mexico-US border are being cared for by SOS Children’s Villages Honduras as they return to their homeland.
Of the 2,125 children who have returned to Honduras since mid-October, 234 were separated from their families and needed temporary care, says Nicolas Alfaro, the National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Honduras. The organisation has provided shelter for at least 30 of these children and is adding capacity as more return to Honduras.
Many of the children had hoped to join other Central Americans in the so-called migrant caravan.
“These children deserve care and protection under international law until they can be safely re-united with their families and loved ones,” Mr Alfaro says. “It is essential that they have care, a safe place to live, and food. Given SOS Children’s Villages’ expertise and 50 years of experience in caring for children in Honduras, we stand ready to help until these children can return home.”
SOS Honduras is working with local social-service agencies to provide care in Santa Rosa de Copán, a busy border city, and in the southern city of Choluteca. Both are home to SOS Children’s Villages.
Two shelters for unaccompanied children
Since 22 October, SOS Children’s Villages has provided temporary care for 30 unaccompanied children at Santa Rosa de Copán. The organisation is opening a second shelter at Choluteca with space for 10 children.
Two of the children at Santa Rosa de Copán were as young as three-years-old and the others have ranged in age from 13 to 17.
Some of the children are awaiting re-unification with their parents in Honduras, while others have parents who themselves have left their country, according to Mr Alfaro. “There are many children who migrated by themselves. They leave because of gang violence, peer pressure, or because they want to look for opportunities in another country.”
“Most of the children arriving at Santa Rosa de Copán are defiant and say they will try crossing the border again, and some are anxious to go back to their families,” Mr Alfaro says. “Some of them are sad. We provide initial emotional care, but they are with us such a short time that there is no opportunity for longer-term mental health care.”
Mr Alfaro says most of the children are in good health and are able to re-join their families quickly. SOS Children’s Villages works with local health officials to provide check-ups and so far there have been no cases of children with serious health problems or signs of abuse.
An ‘exceptional situation’
Honduras has a history of child migration, with thousands returning home every year. But this is the first time SOS Honduras has responded to support unaccompanied children. “This is an exceptional situation,” says Mr Alfaro, noting that migration has grown since a disputed presidential election a year ago fuelled social discontent.
Mr Alfaro is concerned about the longer-term consequences for children seeking to leave the country. “If this situation does not change, this will become a vicious circle and these children will try again and again to leave,” he says. “We are definitely seeing cases of children who don’t know how to read and write, and children who abandoned their education to work in the fields to work for less than four dollars a day.”
The government estimates about 2,100 children that sought to join the US-bound migrant caravan have been returned to Honduras. “Most of them were in Guatemala and returned. Some barely crossed the border before they were returned by the police,” Mr Alfaro says.