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Hope in Action: Supporting the Families of Missing Migrants in Latin America

Rosa Nelly Santos Navarro knows what it’s like to hold on to hope.

In her home country of Honduras, gangs pressured her nephew to join their ranks—a common occurrence for youth. Rather than steal or kill, her nephew left home, fleeing north to Mexico. He vanished after a hurricane hit along his route north, forcing him further into unknown territory.

Haunted by not knowing her nephew’s whereabouts, Rosa Nelly found hope in taking action.

Every year, thousands of Hondurans leave their country in search of safety or a better life. Many, such as Rosa Nelly’s nephew, lose touch with their families. Migrants are particularly vulnerable to violent crime, human traffickers often prevent them from calling home, and some, facing hardships, choose to sever ties.

For those left behind, not knowing a daughter’s or brother’s fate is compounded by a lack of resources, support, and government inaction. This led Rosa Nelly to start COFAMIPRO, the Committee of Families of Disappeared Migrants of El Progreso. Formed by Honduran mothers and grandmothers whose children disappeared while migrating, the group has spent 20 years advocating for the rights of migrants and providing critical support to the families of missing migrants.

Since 2014, the Fund has proudly supported their life-changing work.

COFAMIPRO began out of a small office in El Progreso with an old computer, a Clover Butter–branded box filled with files, and a show of hope.

Seeking information and demanding action about their missing children, Rosa Nelly and her fellow abuelas (grandmothers) began organizing demonstrations, bringing portraits of the disappeared to town squares and the steps of government buildings.

She remembers being dismissed as just “four crazy old ladies on the street” by the director of consular affairs in Tegucigalpa. “But we came back,” says Rosa Nelly. “We told them they had to give us an answer.” Eventually, the foreign ministry agreed to hear some of their cases.

Thanks to the determination of Rosa Nelly and her fellow activists, COFAMIPRO has gone from a small committee of bereaved family members to an important advocate for the rights of migrants in Latin America. They track data from migrant shelters across Latin America, host a weekly radio show discussing migration issues and gathering information about disappearances, and, when necessary, partner with a forensics team to identify and repatriate bodies of the deceased. To date, they’ve worked on nearly 600 cases.

Psychosocial support is another crucial part of their work. The organization keeps two trained psychologists on staff to provide counseling to grieving families. They also train other peer leaders to assist the most vulnerable families.

“We are a family,” says Rosa Nelly. “We help each other.”

In 2000, COFAMIPRO organized their first caravan of family members of the disappeared. The annual procession retraces the migrants’ route from Honduras to Mexico. Along the 4,000-kilometer journey, the activists search for the missing, build a regional network of advocates, and demand respect for the human rights of migrant people.

“Migration is not illegal,” says Rosa Nelly. She blames gangs, human traffickers, and corrupt government officials for the exodus. “If our people are leaving, it is because they are hungry.”

The abuelas amplify this truth internationally to promote the rights of migrants. Rosa Nelly has traveled around the world, sharing the stories of Honduran families and fighting on their behalf. “Personally, I believe that defending the human rights of migrant people is to respect their dignity,” she says.

In 2010, Rosa Nelly was overjoyed to learn that her nephew was alive and well, working as a bricklayer in Mexico.

Rosa Nelly says she’s glad that her sister found her son. But as long as there are open cases, she will keep working. “This motivates me to continue.”

She is also grateful to the Fund and all who support their work reuniting families. “The Fund has been the handkerchief that wipes our tears in order to help these mothers,” she says.

More than ever, we need courageous, determined activists like Rosa Nelly, who give us hope that we can improve the lives of migrants, their families, and communities worldwide.

Learn more about our #HopeInAction campaign.

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