Safe Third Country?

In November, a 23-year-old Honduran man became the first asylum seeker to be sent from the US to Guatemala under the “Safe Third Country” deal. Since then, it appears that up to two dozen asylum seekers have been flown to Guatemala. Two have requested asylum in Guatemala, and others have chosen to return to their home countries.

In July, Guatemala signed an agreement with the Trump administration requiring asylum seekers transiting the Central American country to make their asylum claim there instead of in the U.S.

President Trump stated, ‘We have long been working with Guatemala, and now we can do it the right way.” Adding, ‘this landmark agreement will put the coyotes and smugglers out of business’.

“These are bad people.”

Initial reluctance by Guatemala was met forcefully by President Trump, threatening a travel ban or tariffs on the country. It would appear that financial arm twisting was done to persuade the Guatemala authorities to agree to the deal – whether that was against particular individuals or to the economy is not known, but remittances to Guatemala may well have been also targeted.

While in Guatemala, news of the agreement was met with confusion and anger, In a statement posted on Facebook, President Morales heralded the agreement as a victory for Guatemala, saying it helped the country avoid “drastic sanctions … aimed at hitting the economy.”

“In no way does this benefit Guatemalans,” said Helen Mack, a human rights advocate. “How can Guatemala provide for asylum-seekers from Honduras and El Salvador when it can’t provide for its own people?” she said.

It is unclear how Guatemala can qualify as a Safe Third Country, considering it would not provide protection from persecution for asylum seekers, nor can it provide a “full and fair” procedure for determining asylum claims.

Guatemala is not capable of protecting its own citizens from persecution and could not do so for asylum seekers. For example, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 30,000 Guatemalans filed claims for asylum in the United States. These claims are primarily grounded in either persecution on account of their status as indigenous people, women threatened with domestic violence, or young people subject to gang recruitment.

This last week, President Morales was in Washington, meeting President Trump.

“We have had a tremendous relationship over the last two years,” Trump told reporters, as Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales sat by his side. “We are getting rid of the most dangerous people, we are getting them out of the United States,” Trump said. “They do not belong here, they are not from here.”

Guatemala and the US signed a so-called “safe third country” agreement in July allowing for US immigration authorities to require asylum seekers who first cross through Guatemala to apply for asylum there instead of being eligible to apply in the US. This initiative might be against US law.

Sources are Jeff Abbott, in Al Jazeera, here, Molly O’Toole and Eli Stokols in the Los Angeles Times, here, and Susan Gzesh in the Just Security website, here.

Categories: Guatemala, Human Rights, Justice, Legal, Poverty

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