They cannot go home again.
For many Hondurans forced to return to their place of birth, home means a return to the violence that sent them fleeing the country in the first place.
In the neighborhoods where they grew up, bodies are left unceremoniously in areas where workers are putting up buildings. Human remains are often carried away as if they were a load of food.
Heavily armed police watch from the back of pickup trucks. They stop to search passersby for weapons, drugs or signs they have ties to criminals.
At home, a crying woman tries to wash blood from the walkway where her relative was killed.
For those returning to Honduras, home is a neighborhood ruled by murderous gangs who want money and demand that young men become gang members. They kill those who refuse to obey.
These Hondurans cannot go back home. So many seek protection at a shelter for troubled youth in the capital, Tegucigalpa. At the shelter, the young men tell their stories.
Alexis, 18, arrived at the shelter two years ago after being sent home from Mexico. He says gang members threatened him many times because he would not join them. His mother told him he had to run.
Salm, 14, left home after gang members threatened to kill him for refusing to join. He was staying at a shelter in Nicaragua, but that country sent him back.
Jus, 15, fled Honduras after his father was murdered. He went to Guatemala, which sent him back.
“I can’t go back to where I was born,” Jus says. “In any case, I don’t have any family there any longer.”
The Associated Press is not publishing the full names of the young men or the shelter where they are staying for safety reasons.
Many deported families no longer have a home. They sold everything to pay for a trip north. Now they have nowhere to go, and in many cases, they still owe money for the trip.
A woman named Larissa, her husband and their two children left home after the Mara Salvatrucha gang tried to force her 14-year-old son to join.
Years earlier, gang members shot her husband 14 times when he refused to give them money. He survived. Three of her cousins joined the gangs and all died young.
If you join, you get killed, she said, adding “That’s what happened to them.”
She and her family reached Mexico, but were sent back to Honduras. They lived with relatives in Honduras’ countryside. Her husband found work to save for another trip north. She said she could not move back to her hometown, El Progreso. But she did make a visit to get a copy of the police report she had made about the gang. She hoped it will help the family get asylum in the United States. She said they will try “when things are calm.”
Days later, the family left Honduras to try to reach the United States again.
In Tegucigalpa, many children remain at home as long as they can. On a recent day, smiling boys with toy guns make-believe they are police and gangsters. When asked who they would like to be, they say the police.
Today it is a game. One day, those boys may have to make a decision: whether to join a gang, or to flee their homes.
I’m Susan Shand.