El Salvador Agreement a Fatal Deal for Asylum Seekers
New York City—In response to reports that the United States and El Salvador entering into a “safe third country” or similar “asylum cooperation” agreement in the coming days, a move the Trump Administration would use to force vulnerable refugees to seek asylum there, Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer issued the following statement:
El Salvador isn’t a safe place for its own citizens, so to deem it safe for refugees seeking asylum would be simply laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous and deadly. This agreement not only belittles the dangers these vulnerable people face, but it threatens the safety of refugees fleeing from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and other countries.
The Trump Administration has already turned away thousands of asylum seekers to Mexico, where many have been kidnapped, raped and assaulted. This is just another effort to block people seeking refuge from protection, instead delivering them to places where their lives and safety are at risk.
El Salvador falls nowhere near meeting U.S. legal requirements for a safe third country for asylum returns. Not only is it one of the most dangerous countries in the world, but it does not have the capacity to actually provide asylum. Dressing this agreement up with a different title changes nothing, it is not a safe country for returns.
El Salvador has one of the world’s highest homicide rates in the world. The U.S. State Department’s own human rights have warned that murder, assault, rape, and other violent crimes are common, and that women, children, and other vulnerable populations are subject to murder, kidnappings, human trafficking and other violence by transnational gangs. Security forces have targeted lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals for violence. The U.S. State Department reports that human traffickers exploit men, women, and children from neighboring countries—particularly Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras—in sex trafficking and forced labor. In addition, religious communities are targeted for extortion and killings and their pastors attacked.
Human Rights First notes that not only will El Salvador be unable to protect refugees from such violence, but it does not have an effective asylum system. From 2017-2018, the government reportedly received a total of eight asylum applications and denied half of them.
Earlier this week Human Rights First released a new report that revealing that the Trump Administration has expelled more than 45,000 asylum seekers and migrants, including Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Central Americans, to Mexico under the so-called Remain in Mexico scheme. The report shows that by being returned to Mexico, asylum seekers are being delivered to danger and shocking violence. There are now over 241 publicly reported cases of rape, kidnapping, assault and other violent attacks against asylum seekers expelled to Mexico under this illegal policy—a number that is certainly only the tip of the iceberg.
“Instead of stranding people in places where their lives are in danger, the United States should be upholding U.S. asylum laws at home and addressing the problems pushing people to flee countries like El Salvador. That means encouraging and supporting strategies that improve human rights protections in El Salvador, combat corruption, address internal displacement, and protect women, children, LGBTQ, and other at-risk populations from violence,” added Acer.