Running to Nowhere : The Central American Refugee Crisis
Dates2015 - Ongoing
- Locations Mexico, Honduras, Texas
Central American migrants have been making the perilous journey through Central America and Mexico for over 30 years. It is an old refugee story but in the current political climate it is not only ongoing but heightened by the family separations and mass deportations from the United States. Yet the numbers of people making this journey has not dwindled.
The journey across borders is made by various means. The environmental hazards of dehydration, food and water contamination, sunburn and disease, as well as the physical dangers of the trains, all come second to the risk of theft, rape, violence, kidnapping, and murder. Why would anyone risk such dangers?
In the 1980s ‘Mara’ street gangs originated in Los Angeles. Having fled from civil wars in Honduras and El Salvador, many joined the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) or Calle 18 (M18) gangs. In the 90s, the US government deported gang members back to their respective countries.
Now, decades later, the relocated ‘Maras’ are running poverty-stricken Honduras and El Salvador into desperate circumstances. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes in Central America with the hopes for a safer life risking their lives to get to somewhere else, only to face separation, deportation or go into hiding.
My work on this issue commenced in 2015 with an assignment with Medicos Sin Fronteras at their projects in refugee centres in Tenosique and Ixtapec in Mexico. It was profound to me to see hundreds of traumatised people mainly from Honduras and El Salvador, with stories so often the same: all trying to flee the violence and terror they experienced in their home countries. After meeting the individuals … the small children whose parents haunted eyes told me that they only wished for a safe future for their children; what started as an assignment for MSF (Medicos Sin Fronteras Mexico – Doctors Without Borders) evolved into a passionate pursuit to share and expose the … Why. Why… they would flee and what are they running from.
It was clear that my devotion to document ‘the why’ would require an expedition lasting a few years and which took me all over Mexico, Honduras and Texas, following refugees on their journey meeting people who want to flee, are fleeing, have been deported as well as those in hiding. I have met ‘coyotes’ (those who transport the refugees across the borders) and I have met the people who the refugees are fleeing from. I visited a coroner’s office and the John Doe gravesites in Texas where hundreds of Central Americans finish their journeys in the worst possible way. Yet the better outcomes are grim when faced with brutal deportation policies and family separations. Between 2015 when I began this story it is now an even more desperate story than when I first began.
There is a great deal of coverage on the border issues of the United States and Mexico and while covered by the media in parts, there is little enquiry into why Central Americans are fleeing to the United States to begin with. This story is rather the sum of its parts, radiating impact on several countries, crossing many borders. This is my point of difference in my story telling style; a holistic coverage of this issue across all its borders, creating a clear vision of how and why this is happening by focusing on the individuals who are impacted and suffering through this crisis.
The endeavor is that this body of work would humanize the individuals and their circumstances to create exposure and awareness in order to generate compassion in a era where compassion fatigue, racism and intolerance ensues and with new found insight these refugees are better received in our respective countries with greater understanding and empathy.