The street was dark. Germán*, 38, knew it was a bit late to leave the office, but he told himself it would be okay. After all, it was just a short walk to his car. But they were waiting for him.
“I felt something cover my head. I was beaten and shoved into a car. I thought I was going to die,” he recalled.
An accountant beloved by his clients, Germán was kidnapped by a gang in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He had no idea where they were taking him, but he knew why: “They wanted to know how much money my clients had. But I couldn't tell them.”
Germán knew that if he gave them the information they wanted, his clients would be targeted for extortion, as he had been. Despite his captors beat him repeatedly, Germán refused to talk.
Through a stroke of luck, Germán managed to escape his captors. “They got distracted and I managed to climb through a window and run away, barefoot, through the streets,” he said.
"How will I adapt in a society that is so different from mine?"
Kidnappings are common in Honduras, where criminal gangs routinely demand extortion money – and when they don’t get it, they threaten or kill their victims. Between 2004 and 2014, at least 174,000 Hondurans fled to other parts of the country to escape gang violence. Like Germán, even more – over 205,000 at last count – have seen no other option but to leave the country altogether.
Germán ran and ran, but he knew that he would not be safe at home and eventually made his way to the airport. “I remember sitting in the airplane seat, looking out the window with tears running down my cheeks,” he said. “I was leaving my home, my beautiful Tegucigalpa, to save my life.”
He arrived in Texas, in the United States, on a visitor’s visa and applied for asylum.
Not knowing what was ahead of him, he struggled with the uncertainty: “What will I do? How will I adapt in a society that is so different from mine? Will I find a job as an accountant? I was all alone.”
He started to find answers through a local church. “I wrote to five churches, hoping to find support, someone to talk to,” he says. “One replied and I felt relieved.”
Germán regularly goes to this church, where he has met others who, like him, have fled rampant violence and persecution in the North of Central America. They have established a support system.
Recognizing the mortal danger he faced back home, U.S. authorities granted him asylum. The good news arrived on his birthday, and he now has found the peace he could not find in Honduras.
“I feel safe to walk my dog, go to the bank or the local cafe without looking over my shoulder,” he says. “I feel I am regaining what was taken away from me in my country. Above all, I have hope to live.”
Finding safety in the United States
Although murder rates in Honduras have fallen over the last three years, violence is still prevalent – especially in areas controlled by gangs. Death threats and persecution leave many with no option but to flee.
Around 205,000 Hondurans have sought asylum or have been recognized as refugees in other countries, 31 per cent of them in the United States.
* Names changed for protection reasons.