“My brother was drunk and he told them he didn’t want gangs in his neighbourhood,” Patricia says. “I always remember that day. They called me to tell him that next time he messed with them, they would kill him.”
Gangs in Honduras control powerful networks, and don’t hesitate to track down relatives of anyone who crosses them. No one is safe once the order has been given. “I asked them to forgive him, tried to explain that he had been drunk,” Patricia says. “But they made their threat and didn’t listen to reason.”
Before long, Patricia herself was receiving death threats. “One day the police came to where the gang hangs out,” she recalls. Some managed to escape, but the others were beaten and detained. “The gang thought I had called the police and called me again.”
"Gangs find you everywhere you go in Honduras.”
This time they gave her a deadline. “They called to tell me I had one hour to leave, otherwise they would kill my son, husband and me,” Patricia says. Stunned and overwhelmed with fear, she grabbed her family and fled, leaving everything behind.
Such threats are not uncommon in Honduras, where criminal gangs routinely extort money, kidnap, threaten and kill. For many families like Patricia’s, the only way to survive is to flee.
“We moved internally several times looking for a safe place to live,” she says. “But the fear and insecurity did not let us live in peace; gangs find you everywhere you go in Honduras.”
With no other option, Patricia and her family escaped to Belize, where a few thousand refugees have found a safe place to rebuild their lives. Altogether, some 95,400 Hondurans were registered as refugees and asylum-seekers by the end of 2018, with the majority heading to the United States, Mexico, Canada and Spain.
“There are good-hearted people and organizations that have supported us here in Belize,” Patricia says. “My son is finally in school and thankfully my husband found a job on a farm.”
Integrating in Belize has not been easy for their family, due to difficulties in accessing the asylum procedure. But Patricia can now foresee a future where violence is not on the other end of the phone line.
Finding safety in Belize
Belize has a rich history of ensuring refugee protection and solutions for people fleeing persecution, dating back to the 1980s. In 2010, mounting violence in neighboring countries led to a new wave of people seeking safety in Belize.
In response to an increase in the number of refugee applicants from the North of Central America, Belize joined an innovative inter-institutional approach to help displaced people and their host communities known as Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework (MIRPS in Spanish) in 2017. By joining, the government of Belize intends to show solidarity and commitment in supporting the regional response to the current displacement that has forced thousands of families to flee their homes.
Belize has developed a national action plan that seeks to strengthen the asylum system and local integration. UNHCR supports the government to improve access to, and quality of, asylum; foster dialogue toward better regional coordination and responsibility sharing, and work with all relevant stakeholders to address the dire needs of refugees and asylum-seekers.
* Names changed for protection reasons.