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Asylum-seekers reaching U.S. border are being flown to Guatemala

Central American migrants, sent from the United States, walk out in the streets of Guatemala City after arriving at the airport on Feb. 13, 2020. When asylum-seekers land in Guatemala, they are processed by immigration and asked if they want to stay in Guatemala or return to their countries. They are given 72 hours to decide.

Oliver de Ros/AP

Hundreds of asylum-seekers who reach the Texas-Mexico border aren’t getting a chance to make their case in U.S. immigration court.

Instead, the migrants — mostly women and children — are put on planes to Guatemala and told to ask for asylum in that country.

Alicia, who asked that we not use her last name, is one of more than 800 migrants from Honduras and El Salvador who have been sent to Guatemala under an Asylum Cooperative Agreement.

After traveling for weeks from Honduras with her teenage son, Alicia said she was floored when a U.S. border official raised the possibility that they would be sent to Guatemala.

“I told him I had nothing to do with Guatemala and that I didn’t know anyone in Guatemala, so what could I possibly do there?” she said.

The interview lasted five minutes, Alicia said. She never got a chance to fully explain why she was seeking protection in the U.S. or that she was trying to reconnect with family.

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Afterward, she and her son waited a week in immigrant detention.

Alicia said the facility was extremely cold, and the guards yelled at them, saying “ugly things.” One morning before sunrise, they were escorted onto a bus headed to a nearby airport.

“We weren’t sure if they were sending us to Guatemala, if they’d send us to Mexico, or if they’d send us to El Salvador or Honduras,” Alicia said. “We had absolutely no clue.”

A life-changing decision

The Trump administration says the Asylum Cooperative Agreement helps drive down the number of migrants asking for asylum in the U.S.

“For the ninth straight month in a row, we’ve continued to make incredible progress along the southwest border,” Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, said at a press conference last week.

But critics say the U.S. is sending asylum-seekers back to dangerous places.

In January, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s Asylum Cooperative Agreement with Guatemala. The country is grappling with gang violence and economic hardship.

Alicia said she had been threatened by gangs in her home country, and that’s why she and her son left Honduras.

According to the Guatemalan Institute for Migration, some of the flights sending asylum-seekers to Guatemala under this policy are coming from an airport in Brownsville, Texas.

Protesters, such as Joshua Rubin with Witness at the Border, gather every weekday outside the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport.

“These people fled a situation, most likely that threatened their lives and we’re flying them back into those places where their lives are in danger,” Rubin said.

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From beyond a chain-link fence, the protesters watch shackled migrants as they are escorted onto planes.

Diane Sonde, an activist from Brooklyn, N.Y., said airport officials have parked vehicles in front of them to block their view and even sent police officers to move them.

“I asked them how they could sleep at night and how would they feel if this was their children and their families,” Sonde said. “They wouldn’t even look us in the eye.”

Once in the air, many of the migrants still don’t know where they’re going, said Charanya Krishnaswami with Amnesty International USA.

“Not even understanding that that’s where you’re going and only realizing it upon landing and that complete lack of orientation, that complete lack of counseling, I think exacerbates existing traumas and creates new ones,” Krishnaswami said.

She recently traveled to Guatemala to document how this agreement is playing out on the ground there. She found disoriented migrants who were given very little time to make a life-changing decision.

“They’re told they have 72 hours to decide whether they want to seek asylum in Guatemala, or whether they want to accept voluntary return,” Krishnaswami said.

“They don’t feel safe there”

Ariana Sawyer, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, also traveled to Guatemala recently, to document how the Asylum Cooperative Agreement is being implemented.

“Nobody I spoke to felt like seeking asylum in Guatemala was a viable option for them,” Sawyer said. “As a result it’s really difficult to locate these people, to keep track of them, to find out what they’re going through, to give them any kind of support because they’re not staying in Guatemala. They don’t feel safe there.”

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Only about 16 migrants have decided to apply for asylum in Guatemala, according to officials there. The others are mostly unaccounted for. Some have gone home, while others, such as Alicia, plan on trekking north again.

Alicia still hopes to make it to the U.S. one day to reunite with family.

“I’m hiding in my country while I try to gather some money to try and return,” she said.

The U.S. wants Guatemala to accept even more migrants. The administration also hopes to start sending migrants back to Honduras under a similar agreement.

Source: https://www.npr.org

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

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UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

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“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

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Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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