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  • A Mexican family, who are fleeing from violence in their hometown and are currently camping near the Cordova-Americas international border crossing bridge while waiting to apply for asylum to the U.S. Dec.18, 2019.

    A Mexican family, who are fleeing from violence in their hometown and are currently camping near the Cordova-Americas international border crossing bridge while waiting to apply for asylum to the U.S. Dec.18, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 January 2020
Opinion

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.

Mexicans seeking asylum in the United States could be sent to Guatemala under the safe-third country type deal signed by the Central American nation last year, according to documents sent to U.S. asylum officers in recent days and seen by Reuters.

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In a Jan. 4 emails, field office staff at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were told Mexican nationals will be included in the populations “amenable” to the agreement with Guatemala.

This comes as U.S. President Donald 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.

A spokeswoman for Guatemala’s immigration institute Alejandra Mena said that since the agreement was implemented in November, the U.S. has sent 52 migrants to the country. So far, only six have applied for asylum in Guatemala, Mena said.

On Monday, an additional 33 Central American migrants arrived on a flight to Guatemala City, she said. Guatemalan President-elect Alejandro Giammattei, who takes office this month, has said he will review the deal.

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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.

Honduras had a homicide rate of 40 per 100,000 people in 2017, while Guatemala's was 22.4 per 100,000 inhabitants, among the highest in the Western Hemisphere, according to InSight Crime.

Even the U.S. government admits the dangers present in those countries. The State Department's travel advisory for Guatemala reads the country “remains among the most dangerous countries in the world,” with an “alarmingly high murder rate.”

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