The plight of refugees and migrants from South America grows more drastic and their fate more uncertain. Refugee Stories are testimonies from children, adults, and families, gathered by the Salvadorean Lutheran Church, our companion synod in El Salvador, and CARECEN, an organization working to change the immigration system, win legal status for immigrants, and foster community activism. These stories are a tool and a witness for Refugee and Migrant Sunday and beyond; please share them with your congregations and ministries.
“I had to flee Honduras because I was targeted and threatened by the gangs. I was a nurse in my country, and a mother to three children. I had a home, car, and a good career, and because of that I was seen as well-off. I had my children in bilingual school, and one of my children was in medical school.
“Because of my lifestyle, I had to pay or be killed. I knew the gangs were serious because my daughters and I witnessed when they shot and killed our neighbor. The gangs knew we had seen the murder and told us we would die if we cooperated with the police as witnesses. When the hospital where I worked found out that I was receiving threats and being forced to pay extortion money, they transferred us to an island in order to protect us. Other doctors have been kidnapped, and one of them was shot because she didn’t pay the gangs.
“The gangs are all over the country and well-connected, so it didn’t take them long to find me. I was forced to continue to pay extortion money. If I didn’t pay, they told me they would kill me and my children. For the past four years, I have asked my work to transfer me to four different cities, but the gangs always managed to find me. Sometimes, I would receive messages taped to my car telling me that they were watching me. Another time, gang members came into a bus and put a gun to my husband’s head because he hadn’t paid a ransom for me. The gangs would threaten to rape me and my daughters, and they also threatened to kill my son. The gangs could also listen in on my cell phone calls no matter how many times I changed my number. I changed it countless times but they continued to listen in on my calls.
“Another time, gang members broke into my house and held a gun to my head in front of my children until I paid them. The same men who broke into my house held me up a few days later as I was coming out of the bank and took the money I had withdrawn. After many threats and hold-ups, I went to a higher police authority in my country, and they assigned me an agent, supposedly to protect me. The agent would text me and ask where I was in order to protect me, but I soon realized that they were giving the information to the gangs. I think that is how the gangs were able to find us, no matter how many times we moved.
“In the end, I had to pay because the police could not do anything to protect us. They are part of the gangs in my country. After I reported the threats to the police, the gangs tried to kidnap my two daughters. The gangs said they would take my daughters and force them to be prostitutes. A few months ago, the gangs caught up to us again and tried to kidnap one of my daughters, but she was able to resist. The gangs then called me and told me my daughter had escaped, but they would continue to come after us until they had both of my daughters. We fled Honduras shortly after.
“My biggest problem now is that my brother is being threatened with death because we escaped. Thankfully, we were able to obtain tourist visas to come to the United States, and are now applying for asylum. Life here has been really hard. My husband, three children, and I are living in a single room and we are all very traumatized due to what we have been through. My children are depressed and I have terrible nightmares from the stress.
“I can’t work in this country because I don’t have a work permit, and I don’t have money to obtain a nursing license here. We don’t have the money to pay an attorney to help us. We gave almost all of our savings to the gangs to try and save ourselves, but in the end we had to escape to save our lives.”