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  • People, part of a caravan of migrants heading toward the United States, walk along a road in Agua Caliente, Guatemala Jan. 16, 2020.

    People, part of a caravan of migrants heading toward the United States, walk along a road in Agua Caliente, Guatemala Jan. 16, 2020. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 February 2020
Opinion

A majority of the deaths occurred less than a year after the deportees returned to the Central American country and some within days.

At least 138 migrants deported from the United States to El Salvador were killed since 2013, according to a new report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch. 

RELATED:
U.S. Sends First Salvadoran To Guatemala Under Asylum Agreement

“U.S. authorities have knowingly put Salvadorans in harm’s way by sending them to face murder and attacks on their safety,” Managing Director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report Alison Parker said.

A majority of the deaths occurred less than a year after the deportees returned to the Central American country and some within days. The organization also confirmed at least 70 cases of sexual assault or other violence following their arrival in the country.

“Salvadorans are facing murder, rape, and other violence after deportation in shockingly high numbers, while the U.S. government narrows Salvadorans’ access to asylum and turns a blind eye to the deadly results of its callous policies,” Parker added.

The NGO  found these cases through press accounts and court files, and by interviewing surviving family members, community members, and officials. There is no official tally, however, and their research suggests that the number of those killed is likely greater.

The number of Salvadorans seeking asylum in the U.S. grew by nearly 1,000 percent between 2012 and 2017, many citing threats from gangs. Only about 18 percent are granted asylum and the number will be even lower with President Donald Trump’s migration policies.

Trump, who demanded help from Mexico and Central America to stem the flow of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S., pressured El Salvador (Sept. 20), Guatemala (July 26), and Honduras (Sept. 25) to sign safe-third country type-deals, threatening them with sanctions and to cut off aid.

Under this sort of agreement, Trump’s administration is enforcing a new rule that would curtail asylum applications at the U.S.-Mexico border, requiring migrants to first attempt international protection in a safe third country.

Back to Danger

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said it was “deeply concerned” as the rule would “put vulnerable families at risk” and undermine international efforts to find a coordinated solution, as most of the asylum seekers are escaping political persecution, gang, and drug-related violence. 

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is a binding document for all the United Nations members, a country like the U.S. can refuse to grant refuge to asylum seekers and send them to a country that is considered "safe" to their lives. Canada struck a pact of those characteristics back in 2002.

With the new arrangments pushed by Trump, the North American nation can now shift the burden onto other countries like Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala or Mexico, as asylum hearings can take months or even years. 

Human rights organizations, Democrats and pro-migrant groups argue that sending people seeking asylum back to the region where they fled, even if not to their home country, violates international commitments meant to prevent vulnerable migrants from being returned to danger.

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