Throughout Central America innocent women, men and children are forced to flee their homes to escape gang violence. Gangs, known as “maras,” have been known to extort individuals or forcibly recruit them. When these individuals refuse, the gangs often threaten their lives.
In order to protect themselves and their families, people from countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala must flee. These are the stories of four Central Americans who faced dire circumstances before finding hope in a new country.
Gangs in Honduras have extensive networks. If a person offends a gang or refuses to obey their demands, its members will often track down and target that individual’s loved ones.
This is how Patricia* and her family found themselves receiving death threats.
“My brother was drunk and he told them he didn’t want gangs in his neighborhood,” Patricia said. “I always remember that day. They called me to tell him that next time he messed with them, they would kill him.”
Soon after, Patricia was told that they she and her family had one hour to leave their home. Otherwise, the gang would kill her, her husband and her son. They moved several times within Honduras to escape the threats but eventually found that they were safest in Belize.
Many members of the LGBTI community living in Central America face a difficult choice: stay and risk being killed, or flee.
As a transwoman living in Honduras, Estefanía* never felt safe. Every day, she faced harassment and discrimination that affected her daily life. In many Central American countries, discrimination against LGBTI individuals is so entrenched in the culture that people like Estefanía are forced to live without access to basic services or work.
One day, Estefanía decided she could no longer take the abuse and fled the country with a group of other LGBTI Hondurans. During their journey, they were violently attacked and Estefanía needed to be transported to a hospital and received seven stitches in her head.
Despite the attack, Estefanía is glad she made the journey to Mexico as she now feels safer to be herself in a more open-minded community.
One day, when Ana* was 17 years old, her life changed completely.
She was in her family’s home in El Salvador when gang members broke in and assaulted her. At the time she didn’t understand why this was happening to her. Although gang violence was prevalent around her home in San Salvador, she tried to stay out of their way.
Later on she discovered that gangs were attempting to recruit her brother. When he refused, Ana became a target of their attacks.
In 2018 alone, there were around 4,300 incidents of sexual violence in El Salvador. Ninety-two percent of these victims were girls like Ana. Now Ana and her brother live safely in Panama and work every day to put their past behind them.
38-year-old Germán* lived a quiet life as an accountant in Honduras. Overnight he became the target of brutal violence when he was kidnapped by a local gang.
“They wanted to know how much money my clients had. But I couldn’t tell them.”
He knew that sharing the information would put his clients at risk for extortion. So, no matter how much his captors beat him, he refused to talk.
Luckily, Germán was able to flee to the United States where he sought asylum. Although he was sad to leave his home, he now feels relieved and grateful to live safely in Texas.
How can you help people like Patricia, Estefanía, Ana and Germán?
Hundreds of thousands of people have already fled brutal violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America. They all share a common hope: a safe and peaceful life. By becoming a monthly donor, you can support them in their journeys to safety.
*Names changed for protection reasons.