New asylum agreements are a threat to displaced people in Central America

Published 25. Feb 2020
The number of people trying to cross the US border is the highest in a decade. Last year, hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes in the North of Central America (NCA), fleeing violence and persecution, seeking safety from the criminal gangs whose networks stretch across the region.

While five years ago, most people crossing the US border were men travelling alone in search of better opportunities; today, the criminal violence, climate change, and extreme poverty in the NCA has worsened so much that the majority of those travelling are now families and unaccompanied children. In 2019 alone, there were 58 massacres in Honduras; over 3,200 people disappeared and only 25 per cent were found alive in El Salvador; and in Guatemala there were over 13,000 reported cases of extortion. 

But a safe haven is increasingly harder to find. Over the last three years, the US border has become more and more difficult to cross, through at least 19 major policy changes intended to restrict the right to asylum. People are either detained in inhumane conditions, coerced to sign their own deportation forms and sent home, or returned to Mexico to wait for their asylum requests to be processed. In late 2019, the US signed contentious ‘Asylum Cooperative Agreements’ with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, commonly known as Safe Third Country deals, which plan for mass transfers of asylum seekers from the US to the NCA region. Considering how dangerous Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the region every year, the mass transfer of thousands of asylum seekers will only further increase the protection crisis in the region.

We cannot continue to ignore the truth about desperate Central American families fleeing violence and poverty. The international community must step up solidarity and support all humanitarian efforts to prevent displacement. Today there are limited options for those fleeing their homes in their home counties for accessing safety, education or livelihood opportunities. Root causes must be addressed.

The report “Externalisation in Central America: Deportations, migration agreements and humanitarian needs” provides analysis on the new migration agreements between the countries in the NCA and the US. The report is based on a project led by the Norwegian Refugee Council, with the support of the organisations of the RED-LAC Protection Group.