This Is the Only Shelter for Refugees in NYC

Edafe Okporo is the director of the only shelter in New York City that provides housing for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. He knows what it’s like to arrive in the U.S. with nowhere to go. Okporo left Nigeria seeking asylum after he was attacked by a mob because of his sexual orientation. With the hope of a better life, he came to the U.S., but soon realized he faced another battle. Refugees can undergo harsh treatment, having to navigate complex asylum law and face time in detention centers. Still, he persevered, and built a life for himself. Now, Okporo is helping others do the same.

The Violence and Poverty Honduran Migrants are Fleeing

Asylum Seekers in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. Daniel Arauz.

Asylum Seekers in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. Daniel Arauz.

In November of 2018, a caravan was tear gassed by the US Border Patrol, and US immigration policies are increasingly strict along the southern border. Still, many Hondurans endure the 1000-mile journey from Central America to the United States in hopes of obtaining a more peaceful and prosperous life.

Honduras is described by the Human Rights Watch as a place in which “impunity for crime and human rights abuses is the norm”. Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. One of it’s largest cities, San Pedro Sula, was known as the murder capital of the world until 2016. The high murder rate can be attributed to an increase in gang activity in recent years. Because of a crack down on the drug trade in Colombia, Honduras has taken a larger role in the cocaine trade. Honduras is now a major transit zone for cocaine. Now, Gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (or MS-13) and Barro 18, terrorize locals in major cities. Some migrants understandably cite threats from gang members as their reason for leaving.

Certain viewpoints are ostracized by Honduran society, and activists and journalists are too often targeted by assassins. According to Global Witness, 111 Honduran environmental activists were murdered between 2002 and 2011. This shocking statistic led Global Witness to call Honduras “the most dangerous country to be an environmental activist. The vast majority of these cases go unsolved, including one high-profile case involving the murder of Berta Cáceres. Four government (or ex-government) officials have been tried for her murder, but the case was thrown away in 2018. Journalists face similar danger; between 2014 and 2016, 21 journalists were murdered, and only 9% of these murders were solved. Because of the high murder rate, officials find it difficult to keep up with cases, and many cases end up unsolved.

Women are especially susceptible to violence. According to the United Nations, one in five Honduran women experience physical or sexual violence. Femicide, the killing of women for their gender, is one of the highest in the world, accounting for 9.6% of the homicides in Honduras. Fewer than 3% of Femicide cases are resolved by the courts. Gender based hate crimes could explain the fact that women and children are migrating at higher rates than ever before.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, the Honduran people endure a government in which “[corruption] is the operating system of sophisticated networks that cross sectoral and national boundaries in their drive to maximize returns for their members”. No one better exemplifies corruption in Honduras than President Juan Orlando Hernández, a conservative, pro-business leader. Hernández almost lost the reelection in 2017, yet just as his opponent, Salvador Nasralla, was ahead in polls by 5 points, the Honduras Broadcast Commission (which was mostly staffed by Hernández appointees) ended the broadcast of the election. It was later announced that Hernández won the election. Hondurans suspected the election was corrupt, thus tens of thousands of Hondurans protested Hernández’s election only to be met with bullets, tear gas, and arrests. Organizations like the Organization for American States and the European Union found reasons to question the validity of the elections.  The Organization for American States found “Deliberate human intrusions in the computer system” and “intentional elimination of digital traces”. On the 1 year anniversary of Hernández’s election, January 27, 2019, protests broke out again.

According to the World Bank Group, 66% of Hondurans are living in poverty; 1 in 5 Hondurans have an income under $1.50 a day. Honduras is also burdened with the highest level of income inequality in Latin America. The per capita income of the average Honduran is $4,563.80, meager compared to the $60,200 per capita income in the United States. Given the circumstances, it is not difficult to understand why migrants are headed for the United States. The immigration process is lengthy and many Hondurans don’t have the time to wait for the United States to grant them visas legally. The immense poverty and crime has left many Hondurans with little choice other than to attempt immigration into the United States.

GINNY KEENAN is an NYU student currently studying abroad in London. She intends to major in journalism, and reads in her free time. She is always looking for new travel opportunities.