Natalia and José traveled thousands of kilometres, sleeping rough on the streets. They were determined to reach a safe place to raise their children. With EU humanitarian aid, the International Rescue Committee supported them along the way.
Natalia never imagined herself leaving her hometown in Honduras. “It is very beautiful,” she says. “There are some gorgeous rivers, mountains, and parks. People are kind. It is a very precious community.”
She had bright hopes for her family’s future. “I had a business, and my partner worked too. We hoped that our children could grow up there, that we could fix our house”.
Unfortunately for them, but all too common in their country, Natalia and José were forced to leave after extortion threats from criminal gangs put their lives in danger.
Arriving in a different city in Honduras, Natalia and José started a cybercafé, but it wasn’t long before new criminal groups tried force them into illicit activities. “We did not want to,” says Natalia. “Then they told us to leave - hence, we left.”
Rebuilding from scratch
The family moved again, only to encounter a similar situation. They fled to a city where José found a job in a factory.
Natalia started another small business selling clothes, makeup, and sundries from a tent outside their home. “We were doing well. We organised livestreams on Facebook and that’s how we sold things,” she recalls.
A little over a month later, yet another criminal gang began extorting Natalia for “protection”- the cost of doing business in Honduras.
“We could not raise the money,” she says. “Our business had just started, so it wasn’t something stable. [The armed gangs] control everything. They told us ‘no more,’ and we had to leave”.
Packing up a 4th time, Natalia and José took the painful decision to leave their 2 children in the care of their grandmother, hoping that this would be safer for the kids than the journey to Mexico.
A glimmer of hope
Clinging onto a new chance for safety, she and José made their way north, only to find themselves in a grueling situation: working to cover their basic needs and sleeping on the street while they waited for their asylum papers.
After 2 months, Natalia and José were still without the humanitarian visas that would allow them to continue their journey and find a safer place in Mexico.
The wait was filled with misinformation and false hopes. They spent 10 days sleeping on the street near the immigration office, enduring the sun and hunger.
Desperate, they decided to travel on to Mexico City, where they met with more frustration, and took one last leap of faith.
Following advice they found posted on Facebook, they flew to Ciudad Juárez, a border city where they felt they could contact José’s uncle living in the U.S. This, they agreed, was their last chance to provide their children with a future.
The US-Mexico border
In Ciudad Juárez, Natalia and José were sleeping on the streets once again, until they found space at a temporary shelter.
Then the couple began making appointments on dedicated app, a process that often leads to frustration due to technical malfunctions.
Day after day, they tried to secure a time slot, worried about their precarious living arrangement.
Natalia attempted to create a sense of normalcy by cooking and doing laundry in the shelter’s communal spaces.
In Mexico, together with the EU, the IRC is responding to the needs of people traveling through the main migration corridors.
Natalia joined a group created by an IRC Women’s Protection and Empowerment team, which provided her with a network of friends who offered emotional support.
In April 2023, 3 months after first arriving in Ciudad Juárez, Natalia finally was able to present her family’s case for asylum in the U.S.