Story by Nadia Kalinchuk, National Headquarters, RFL Outreach Coordinator and Caseworker for the Americas, Migration Focal Point
It is difficult to talk about the field visit to Corinto, not for lack of words or excitement, but because it was an experience that shaped me. At the American Red Cross, we call these experiences “Mission Moments.” We try to capture them, share them with others and reflect back on them when the days seem long and unrelenting. These moments foster camaraderie, uniting Red Crossers globally, erasing geographical borders, indelibly linking us to what it means to be a humanitarian.
During my field visit, I traveled with Mauricio and Hansel from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Honduras to Corinto, a small town on the border between Guatemala and Honduras. There, we went to the Modulo de Atencíon a Personas Migrantes, which has been responding to the needs of returning migrants for the past two years. We met a team of young volunteers from the Cruz Roja Hondureña who had traveled from Puerto Cortes, an approximately one hour trip from Corinto. While we waited for the buses of migrants to arrive, I got to know the police stationed at the border, the young volunteers, and their leader from the Cruz Roja Hondureña, Mauricio.
I learned that between January and July, the Modulo received double the number of migrants than the year before. Mauricio showed me a picture of the day they received twelve buses of migrants, each one containing forty-five persons. He explained that while their response is critical, the needs are greater because the Modulo is the only service available to returning migrants in Corinto.
I heard the same from the police – numbers of returned migrants are high. They shared their gratitude for the Red Cross presence in this remote border town. One officer said that it is heartbreaking for him to hear from the families traveling with children that they have nowhere to go and fear the gangs and violence that meet them upon their return home. Ellos son mis paisanos. ¿Qué les digo? (They are my fellow countrymen. What do I tell them?)
We were told a bus was on the way, and I gathered with the volunteers to get ready for its arrival. While we waited, we talked and ate lychee. I found out that the volunteers are all between nineteen and twenty-three years old. Perhaps this question came from not being the most ambitious 19-year-old, but I asked them what made them wake up so early to come to the Modulo. They said that the people coming back are part of their community. Their words reflected a “why wouldn't we” attitude. The night before, I had learned from Mauricio that the volunteers are so committed to the service that they often stay through the night if a bus comes late.
As the bus approached, the volunteers sprang into action to help the passengers who have been on the road for hours traveling from Mexico. The returning migrants were welcomed by all at the Modulo. When they came in, they were given an orientation to space, critical information on buses departing from Corinto, and hygiene kits with water, toilet paper, snacks, and other necessities.
The migrants then waited their turn to make calls home to their family members. Those who missed the orientation from the volunteers at the door had the opportunity to look over information about the buses. Migrants could also access first aid services, as dehydration and headaches are common.
As I watched the phone call area, I noticed some migrants supporting one another through their disappointment when they were unable to reach their families. Those who had contacted their loved ones beamed with joy after hearing a familiar voice. Even those who were unable to contact their family were comforted by the services provided at the Modulo. I saw the ease restored in their faces when they saw the Red Cross. I saw the volunteers, driven by the humanitarian mission to assist their communities. I saw some of the realities of migration in Corinto.
In less than an hour, the bus full of migrants had left the Modulo. As we leave, I noticed many of them walking down the street toward other buses that would carry them home or elsewhere.
Reflecting back on this experience, I am thankful to Mauricio of the ICRC delegation of Honduras and Mauricio of the Cruz Roja Hondureña for the hospitality, the many colleagues who made this possible, but most thankful to the people we serve every day all around the world – thank you for teaching me and grounding me in my mission.