Safe Third Country Agreement with Guatemala Would Endanger, not Protect Refugees
New York City—In response to reports that the Trump Administration is attempting to get the government of Guatemala to adopt a safe third country agreement or similar arrangement to accept refugees from Honduras, El Salvador, and other countries who are seeking asylum from, and turned away by, the United States, Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer issued the following statement:
Guatemala is not a safe country for refugees. It is a country that refugees are fleeing. The U.S. State Department’s own human rights reports reveal that rape, femicide, violence against women, trafficking in persons, violent attacks against LGBTI persons, and gang-recruitment of displaced children are all serious problems in Guatemala. Corruption and extortion are rampant, leaving many people unprotected by the police and other authorities. Refugees returned to Guatemala would not only face dangers in Guatemala, but they would be at grave risk of being sent back to their countries of persecution given the country’s lack of effective systems and capacity for identifying and protecting refugees from deportation.
It’s simply ludicrous for the United States to assert that Guatemala is capable of protecting refugees turned away from the United States at a time when its own citizens are fleeing violence and other failures of state protection. This is just another shameful and illegal attempt to ban, bar, and block refugees from seeking asylum in the United States.
Human Rights First notes that people seeking refuge are not required to seek asylum in the first country they set foot in. In fact, many face grave dangers in neighboring countries, as well as serious risks that they will be returned to their country of persecution.
Instead of more attempts to block and punish people seeking refuge, the United States needs real solutions that restore order and uphold America’s refugee laws and treaty commitments, including:
- Tackle the root causes pushing people to flee the Northern Triangle countries through a targeted strategy that leverages both diplomacy and aid, focusing on effective programs that reduce violence, combat corruption, strengthen rule of law, protect vulnerable populations and promote sustainable economic development.
- Launch a major initiative to enhance the capacity of Mexico and other countries—which are already hosting growing numbers of refugees—to provide asylum, host, protect, and integrate refugees, along with a robust regional resettlement initiative that provides orderly routes to the United States and other countries while safeguarding asylum.
- Immediately end the dysfunction at the border, and instead launch a public-private humanitarian initiative and a long overdue case management system to actually manage asylum cases.
- Fix the asylum and immigration court adjudication systems to provide fair, non-politicized and timely decisions.
For more information see Human Rights First’s blueprint: The Real Solution: Regional Response Rather than Border Closures, Mass Incarceration, and Refugee Returns.