Honduran kids flee violence for life in US

Honduran kids flee violence for life in US

TEGUCIGALPA, Spain - Cristian remembers the day his two best friends told him they were going to attempt a dangerous trip alone from Honduras to the United States to escape gang violence ravaging their country.

"They asked me to keep it a secret," the 16-year-old said of his pals Alexander and Jairo.

"They did not have money to pay a trafficker, but they were being threatened by the Mara Salvatrucha," Cristian told AFP, referring to one of the country's feared gangs.

Mara Salvatrucha and another gang, called Barrio 18, forcibly recruit many youths in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Cristian, a tall thin boy with curly hair, says his buddies left on July 25.

"It is sad," he said, "because they were told that there (in the US), they would have everything, and they fell for it."

"Here, they make children sell drugs. The gang members extort. They take youths and tell them if they don't sell drugs, they will kill them. That is why they left, out of fear of the gangs," he said.

Cristian said he has escaped the crosshairs of the gangs because he lives "like a prisoner" - rushing from home to school and then to the headquarters of a non-governmental organisation called Compartir (Share), without stopping along the street.

He is working hard to learn how to use a soldering iron at Compartir, which for 23 years has been helping kids in slum areas near the capital Tegucigalpa.

Crimes go unpunished

Dreaming of a better future, Alexander and Jairo left for the United States just as President Barack Obama was meeting at the White House with counterparts Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador and Otto Perez of Guatemala to ask them to discourage illegal immigration, mainly by children.

The massive flight of kids from those three countries, traveling without adults as they flee poverty and gang violence, reached crisis level in the rich neighbour to the north.

The US Border Patrol says that between October 2013 and August of this year, 61,581 unaccompanied minors crossed the border from Mexico, enduring a 1,500-kilometer (900-mile) trek during which they braved criminal gangs that kill, rape and extort, especially in Mexico.

Cristian, who lives with his parents in Villanueva, a poor hillside district of Tegucigalpa, hopes not to have to leave the country like his friends did.

He says he wants to become a soldier and carry a gun to protect himself and the children of his neighborhood from the street gangs.

Authorities say they traffic in weapons and drugs, carry out killings for pay, and rob and extort money from merchants, business people, drivers and families.

Honduras is plagued by runaway crime blamed on the drug traffickers and the street gangs.

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