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  • The plane, which arrived Tuesday morning from Mesa, Arizona, also had 84 Guatemalans and two Hondurans on board.

    The plane, which arrived Tuesday morning from Mesa, Arizona, also had 84 Guatemalans and two Hondurans on board. | Photo: Reuters

Published 3 December 2019

It has not been specified whether migrants from Honduras and El Salvador will seek asylum in Guatemala or return to their countries.

Guatemala received the first Salvadoran citizen from the United States under a new migration agreement that designates the Central American nation as a so-called third safe country for asylum seekers, Guatemalan authorities reported Tuesday.

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The plane, which arrived Tuesday morning from Mesa, Arizona, also had 84 Guatemalans and two Hondurans on board, said Alejandra Mena, spokeswoman for the Guatemalan Migration Institute.

It has not been specified whether migrants from Honduras and El Salvador will seek asylum in Guatemala or return to their countries.

The program marks a political achievement for U.S. President Donald Trump, who has demanded help from Mexico and Central America to stem the flow of migrants seeking asylum in the United States. As the head of state pressured El Salvador (Sept. 20), Guatemala (July 26), and Honduras (Sept. 25) to sign safe-third country type-deals. 

Under this sort of agreement, President Donald Trump’s administration will fully enforce 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.

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.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is currently detaining more than 50,000 migrants a day, most of them are asylum seekers protected by international law, 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 and migration advocates 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, especially to countries known for drug and gang-related violence. 

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 Honduras warns of "violent crime, such as homicide and armed robbery, is common...violent gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, rape, and narcotics and human trafficking, is widespread.”

While Guatemala “remains among the most dangerous countries in the world,” with an “alarmingly high murder rate.”

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