IACHR expresses deep concern about the situation of migrants and refugees in the United States, Mexico and Central America

(July 23, 2019) Washington DC – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern about the situation of migrants and refugees in the United States of America, Mexico and Central America, especially the recent policies and measures adopted by the States regarding migration and asylum; securitization, militarization and outsourcing of borders; as well as the criminalization of human rights defenders of migrants and refugees. The Commission urges the States of the region to respect and guarantee the rights of migrants and refugees, as well as those of human rights defenders.

During the last years, the IACHR has been observing the increase in the migration of people from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, who seek to reach the United States and, to a lesser extent, to Mexico. One of the factors that has influenced this increase are the so-called “migrant caravans”, which include people with protection needs, such as asylum seekers, refugees, families, mothers, women, children and adolescents, in particular those who travel alone, among others. Regarding the magnitude of the phenomenon, the Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2018 report by the United Nations Refugee Organization Agency (UNHCR) shows that at the end of 2018, 314,946 asylum seekers were registered and 72.

The IACHR has observed that, in response to this situation, the United States of America and the United Mexican States have been jointly implementing policies and practices in matters of migration and asylum, which are having direct impacts on the human rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. In this regard, as of the unilateral implementation of the “Stay in Mexico” program, the United States has returned more than 10,000 people to Mexico to wait there while their immigration and asylum procedures are being carried out. Also, both countries have collaborated in coordinating appointments to initiate asylum processes, through which about 18,

The Commission observes that these policies are contrary to human rights obligations, in particular as regards the right to request and receive asylum, the principle of non-refoulement), given that, among others, they expose these people to numerous risks, including extortion, kidnapping and other acts of violence at the hands of criminal organizations and common criminals who are in the areas where these people are being returned , as well as the lack of access to basic assistance services. The IACHR urges the States of the region to take urgent and comprehensive measures to ensure safe ways for people to seek international protection. In addition, the IACHR received information on the difficulties for migrants and asylum seekers under this program to guarantee their right to due process and judicial protection, given that they must wait several months in Mexico until their hearings in the United States, as well as the difficulties in accessing the courts and having legal representation. According to official information, from January to July of this year, Mexico has received in its territory more than 30 thousand applications for refugee status.

The IACHR has also received information on cases of separation of families under the “Stay in Mexico” Program in which fathers and / or mothers remain in Mexico, while their children are sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of The United States of America. The IACHR reiterates that the right to non-refoulement establishes the prohibition to expel or return people where their rights to life, personal integrity and other human rights are at risk of violation.

Also, on May 31, it was made public that the US government will send dozens of agents of the Department of National Security to the northern border of Guatemala with Mexico to help Guatemalan authorities to curb the Central American migratory exodus to the United States . More recently, in mid-June 2019, the United States government cut financial assistance funds for the Northern Triangle countries of Central America. In accordance with international and inter-American norms of International Human Rights Law, all persons have the right to freely leave any country, including their own; as well as the right to request and receive asylum and the protection of their right and principle of non-refoulement.

Recently, the IACHR also took note of the information regarding the negotiations that are ongoing between the United States and Guatemala to establish a secure third country agreement. If the agreement is signed, people who have crossed through Guatemala could not apply for asylum in the United States and asylum seekers arriving at the United States border requesting asylum would be returned to Guatemala or their countries of origin. The violence and human rights violations that the IACHR has monitored through its visits, country reports and other monitoring mechanisms regarding Guatemala and Mexico in recent years show that these countries would not have the conditions to offer security guarantees that a safe third country must guarantee. This agreement could increase the conditions of vulnerability for migrants and refugees and could expose them to greater risks than those that led them to move originally. The Inter-American Commission also notes that on July 14, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala granted a provisional protection designed to prevent the President from signing a secure third country agreement with the United States of America.

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