Climate Migration: Honduran couple flee amid storms, threats

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — With its cheery unicorn printed case, Ana Morazan’s iPhone contains all that’s left of what she calls her “other world,” referring to her middle-class life before back-to-back hurricanes destroyed her home in Honduras.

There are glam shots of the 42-year-old with blond, salon-styled hair, impeccable makeup and cocktail dresses. And pictures of her as a home health aide in her white medical coat, smiling proudly as a professional who owned her home and was living debt-free.

The comfortable life she built from years of hard work and sacrifice disappeared in a span of two weeks when she became part of the estimated 1.7 million people displaced by the hurricanes Eta and Iota that pummeled Honduras and Guatemala in November 2020.

Morazan and her boyfriend, Fredi Juarez, who moved in with her during the pandemic, say they fell into debt trying to rebuild Morazan’s home and then started getting threats. The couple has been on the move ever since and are currently living in a tent at a crowded Tijuana shelter.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing series exploring the lives of people around the world who have been forced to move because of rising seas, drought, searing temperatures and other things caused or exacerbated by climate change.

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The photos and videos in Morazan’s iPhone both console and torment her. They remind her of who she was and what she had, giving her hope of getting there again, but also serving as evidence of how quickly it was wiped out from the storms that led to her becoming a migrant.

She wipes a tear as she watches a video she recorded of the destruction near San Pedro Sula. In the video, she scans each room of her once spotless home, painted a bright lime color, and now splattered in dirt. Then she stares into the camera and says: “All I have is mud and more mud and more mud.”

The couple said since leaving, they have been attacked, kidnapped, and robbed, keeping them on the move. Now she and Juarez are among tens of thousands of Central Americans in Mexican border cities seeking to request asylum in the U.S., but they are blocked by a pandemic-related health order that was invoked by the Trump administration and has continued under President Joe Biden.

While fear of violence keeps them from trying to return to Honduras, even if they did go back, they would have no place to live. If Eta and Iota had not hit, it would not have started a chain reaction of other things that forced them to flee.

“All our problems started with the hurricanes,” said Juarez, 48.

No nation offers asylum to people displaced specifically because of climate change, though the Biden administration has studied climate migration to explore options. Each year, storms, drought, wildfires and other natural disasters force an average of 21.5 million people from their homes around the world, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Honduras was among 11 countries identified as being of greatest concern in the U.S. government’s first assessment by intelligence agencies on the impact of climate change and its vast rippling effects on the world’s stability that was released last year. But identifying climate migrants is not easy, especially in regions rife with violence.

“I just ask that President Biden helps me,” Morazan said. “It’s not easy for us, given our age. It’s been a nightmare. Your life can change in a second. We were living well. Now we don’t know what is going to happen day by day.”

After Eta hit, Morazan cleaned out buckets of mud from the living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom and tried to restore her life. With the pandemic hurting the economy, she had already been struggling to pay her bills, including covering the medical expenses of her nephew who has a heart problem.

Then 13 days later, Iota destroyed the little she had managed to salvage. Juarez, a long-haul trucker who had been away on a trip, returned and tried to help. But both ended up getting laid off and they each started borrowing money to get by while trying to repair the home. Morazan borrowed about 340,000 in Honduran lempira (US$14,000), while Juarez borrowed about 80,000 lempiras (US$3,200) .

They ended up sleeping on the streets in the San Pedro Sula area. Then she and Juarez started receiving threats with demands to fork over money or the home, even though Morazan owned it outright, and it was still nothing but a muddy shell. Not long after that, Morazan was beaten by attackers who stepped on her ankle, and she feared for her life, she said. That is when they decided to flee the country.

Being on the road for the past year has not been easy. In southern Mexico the couple said they were kidnapped by bandits and held for two days in a banana plantation until they gave up the little money they had.

“It was horrible, ugly, ugly, ugly,” Morazan said.

They moved on to Guadalajara, where they got work at the airport doing security, but they were approached by drug smugglers there and so they quit and headed north to Tijuana.

They have been sleeping on a blow-up mattress on top of folded up cardboard boxes so they don’t get soaked when rain enters through the gaps in the shelter’s flimsy roof and soaks the floor. Morazan has been bitten by bed bugs and wears a diaper when the shelter’s bathrooms become so fetid they make her want to vomit. The couple worked briefly collecting recyclables at a dump.

“We hope the United States opens its door because we won’t last here,” Juarez said.

One night a fellow migrant sleeping in a tent at the shelter was struck in the neck by a stray bullet from a shootout that erupted in the ramshackle neighborhood.

“There are cartels here and a lot of crime,” Juarez said.

Morazan fights to keep her spirits up. They took in a stray Chihuahua and named him Jabibi. She has tried to dress up with clothing donated to the shelter, but the competition among the migrants has been fierce and often the best stuff is claimed within seconds of being unloaded.

Morazan put on makeup by holding a mirror inside her tent because, “I still like to feel pretty,” but she conceded that she has only bathed every two days or so because of the limited number of showers.

“It’s very hard,” she said. “I’ve been left with only the memories in my mind. At least those can’t be wiped out.”

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