Leaving everything behind is one of the hardest decisions someone has to make. And for those fleeing the North of Central America, leaving is often the only choice. Hundreds of thousands of families have been uprooted from their homes in recent years, escaping gang violence, extortion and persecution. They undertake dangerous journeys just to find a safe place to restart their lives.
But starting over in a new country goes beyond finding a new place to live. It’s about rebuilding self-esteem, being part of a new community and becoming self-sufficient once again. Thanks to the support of generous USA for UNHCR donors, hundreds of Central American families have received support through an integration program that relocates displaced families to areas where they can find better opportunities to rebuild their lives. The program was initially piloted in Saltillo, Mexico, in 2019 and helped relocate more than 5,500 refugees in the first year alone. It has now been expanded to other cities to provide even more refugees a chance at a better future.
These are the stories of three Central American families who have found hope through this generous program:
Claudia was forced to leave everything behind after she became the target of local gangs in El Salvador. She left her children in the custody of their grandmother hoping they would have a normal life, but soon the children were not safe either and had to move from house to house to stay ahead of the gangs.
Thanks to UNHCR’s local integration program, Claudia and her children were reunited in Saltillo - a city in northeast Mexico - and she was able to secure a full-time job in a factory. Her children are back in school and she is now pursuing a degree in industrial engineering that will allow her to find a better job in the future.
“Sometimes it’s very hard as a single parent to balance work and school, but I hope that all the sacrifices are worth it,” says Claudia.
The day Rafael witnessed gang violence, his life changed forever. He immediately understood that his family’s life was in danger and he had no other choice but to leave everything behind.
The family found safety in a small town in Mexico’s southern border where they received shelter and emergency aid. Shortly after arriving in Mexico, the family moved to Saltillo and found an opportunity to begin life again in safety.
Rafael found a job working for an industrial company and quickly became self-sufficient. He took advantage of every training opportunity that the company offered and is now earning a salary that’s nearly doubled since he started. He is also offering taxi services to Saltillo locals, which allows him to bring home more income while contributing to the local economy.
Moving to Saltillo was a fresh start for the whole family. Rafael’s children enrolled in school and his wife was able to stay at home to care for the youngest of their children, who attends a local pre-school a few hours each week.
José Manuel is another victim of the gangs in Honduras. He was forced to flee in 2016 and arrived in Mexico with nothing more than a couple of suitcases. Today, thanks to UNHCR’s relocation and integration program, he is among the many refugees and asylum seekers who have found a job at Mabe – the largest appliances manufacturer company in Latin America and based in Mexico.
At Mabe, he leads a team on the washing machine production line that makes industrial scale washing machines designed for hospitals, clinics and shelters treating COVID-19 patients across Latin America. The company has donated more than 500 washing machines throughout Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
“I am very proud to contribute with my work and help others during the pandemic,” says José Manuel.
*Names were changed for protection reasons.
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