Salvador refugees to be transferred to camps deeper in Honduras
Mesa Grande, Honduras
The drawings tacked on the walls of a school here reveal unusual childhoods. Like most pictures by children, they are full of color and disproportionate sticklike figures. But these drawings are also full of oversize helicopters and soldiers spraying people with bullets.
Children of Salvadorean refugees drew these pictures. In their eyes, helicopters and soldiers dwarf an ant-size populace.
Such children make up about 60 percent of the refugees here in Mesa Grande, a camp in Honduras not far from the Salvadorean border. Displaced by the war here or fear of the war, the youngsters and their families have been shuttled from one refugee compound to another.
Most soon face another move. Hondu-ran and United Nations officials plan to shift the refugees deeper inside Honduras.
Publicly the UN says the move is being made to give refugees greater security. But privately they and private relief officials charge the action stems from increased militarization along the Honduran-Salvadorean border.
''The three camps here - Colomoncauga, San Antonio, and Mesa Grande - are seen as interferences with the military activity,'' says one high-ranking UN official at the camp. ''For greater freedom of movement, the US, Honduran, and Salvadorean military want to turn this area into an unrestricted war zone.''
Camp officials here charge that the Honduran military hopes a free-fire zone along the border would prevent movement of Salvadorean guerrillas and supplies into El Salvador and staunch the flow of refugees into Honduras. At present, there are an estimated 25,000 Salvadorean refugees in Honduras.
The Mesa Grande camp, in operation since November 1981, houses some 10,000 refugees. Besides children, the camp population consists mainly of older men and young women. They would move, under the Honduran-UN plan, to such sites as Santa Barbara, Jesus de Otoro, Olancho, and Yoro - 55 to 170 miles from the Salvadorean border.
Salvadorean refugees have never been welcome guests in Honduras. Periodic disappearances of refugees and corpses found along the border have plagued the camps since their creation in 1980.
Camp officials charge that Hondurans regularly permit Salvadorean troops to cross the border. Some relief workers from Caritas, a Roman Catholic relief organization, were killed by Salvadorean troops here in 1981.
The lives of refugees seem even more precarious. Few have personal documents. They generally do not venture outside the compound for fear of abduction.
One week ago, camp officials say, a refugee who had obtained permission to visit a dentist in San Marcos was physically dragged from the doctor's office by Honduran troops. He was held for several hours, officials say. These officials claim the refugee was tortured and interrogated for six hours about camp operations.
Although refugees now in the camps would be moved further into the interior of Honduras, the Honduran National Refugee Commission has informed the UN that refugee reception centers can remain in operation near the border.
Officials here, however, note that Honduras has twice closed these centers - once in November 1982 and again in August 1983. Both of these closings coincided with military offensives by the Salvadorean Army in the border area.
''Our latest news from the Honduran government,'' says a camp official, ''is that we will no longer be allowed within three kilometers (1.9 miles) of the border.
''I see this as a gradual process to eradicate us from the area and refuse any kind of haven for Salvadorean refugees. It also removes any neutral party from the area which can monitor abuses by military forces here.''
Relief workers here also question the selection of relocation sites. They argue that Olancho and Yoro are areas with a history of rural conflict and land disputes. During a 1969 war between Honduras and El Salvador, thousands of Salvadoreans were violently expelled from Olancho. Tensions in this area remain high.
Several Honduran peasant organizations in Yoro and Olancho oppose the relocation. These groups claim there are already hundreds of Honduran families in these areas being denied land. Providing land for Salvadorean refugees therefore meets a strong negative reaction.
''Given the characterization of the refugees as subversives, the present political climate in Honduras, and the fact that Honduras is not a signatory of the Geneva Convention and Protocol on Refugees,'' says one director of a private relief group, ''the refugees can have no guarantees of security anywhere in the country.
''If they are now accused of collaborating with Salvadorean guerrillas, they will later be accused of collaborating with Honduran peasant groups demanding land, or with Honduran guerrilla groups . . . and suffer persecution as a result.''
Says one refugee: ''We have seen officials in El Salvador and here make promises that are never kept. We have been promised freedom and are incarcerated. We have been promised security and live in fear. What we want is to live in peace but this is very, very far away.''