"I was afraid for my family and myself, so the only option I had was to flee home and my sister joined me."
Honduran Fernanda (17) and Jimena (16) flee violence at the beginning of this year, hoping to have a fresh start in the US. After being detained in a migration centre in Mexico without knowing what was next, the pandemic outbreak increased their fear and uncertainty.
The sisters paid a coyote to take them to Mexico. Although they had heard the risks that migrating through one of the most dangerous routes in the world entailed, they knew that if they stayed at their hometown San Pedro de Sula, their lives were in danger.
“A gang leader wanted to marry me,” says Jimena, “After I refused several times, the threats began. I was afraid for my family and myself, so the only option I had was to flee home and my sister joined me.”
In mid-January, the first migrant caravan of 2020 arrived at the border of Mexico and Guatemala, where more than 3,500 people tried to cross into Mexican territory to reach the United States. However, most of them were deported to their countries of origin since migratory measures were stricter than before.
Upon arriving in Mexico after four days of travelling, the sisters were detained and transferred to an immigration station where they stayed for a week; they were later relocated to a temporary shelter for migrant minors in Chiapas, Mexico.
Without a clear idea of what is next, unaccompanied minors like Fernanda and Jimena are deprived of their liberty in confined spaces, with little hygiene due to overcrowding in the shelters. Jimena recalls sometimes they were only fed beans and water. On top of that, abuse and discrimination from the staff are common.
“They treated us very badly, I didn't like being in that place, it was horrible and we were afraid,” says Jimena. “When I was told I was leaving, they didn't even tell me where I was going, they just put me in a migration van without my sister.”
A different kind of shelter
Jimena arrived at the SOS Children’s Village of Comitán at the beginning of July. She remembers being surprised and thinking “this is a nice shelter.” She was welcomed to live with caregiver Fanny and three young men from Honduras who had been through a similar journey as her. Finally, after a month, her sister Fernanda joined her.
“I feel free here, we are not locked up and we can go outside,” says Fernanda. “After going through so much, plus the pandemic, I feel safer because we have a place to stay, we are cared for and advised on our future.”
Jimena started an English course and she loves to cook for her SOS family, she learned all her recipes from watching her mother and her dream is to become a chef.
“I cannot help feeling worried about my family and that they will get the virus,” says Jimena. “But I trust that they will be okay because we are used to fighting back, even before the pandemic.”
Fernanda was only able to finish kindergarten after her father was murdered she developed language problems. She wishes to learn how to read and write and dreams of becoming a policewoman to help others.
“Many times, people have made fun of me, they say that I am too old not to know how to read and write,” says Fernanda. “That makes me sad, but in my life, many things have happened and I overcame these, so I will learn no matter what others say. For now, Fanny already taught me to write my name and that made me feel very happy.”
These brave sisters already have permanent residency in the country, which allows them to move freely through Mexican territory. Like many migrants escaping violence, Jimena and Fernanda dream of living in the US without fear and danger, while they support their family and hope to meet them again.
Since 2018, SOS Children’s Villages Mexico has supported 60 unaccompanied youth that escaped violence and danger in Central America, providing care, guidance, capacity building and support for their asylum applications in the country.