In 2019, the United States government signed the Asylum Cooperation Agreements (ACAs) bilaterally with the countries of Northern Central America. These agreements, also known as safe third country agreements, establish the basis for the transfer of persons seeking protection in the United States to one of the three countries in the region where there is an ACA: Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras, on the premise that these persons can access international protection in one of these countries. In practice, however, these agreements have taken a further step towards dismantling international protection for refugees and have exposed Central Americans to human rights violations and serious risks to their lives and integrity.
During the months when the Agreement was implemented in Guatemala, the only country where the agreements has been implemented to date, the United States transferred more than 900 asylum seekers. Given the Guatemala’s inability to provide protection and guarantee their rights, as well as the risks that migrants face in that country, the vast majority of these people, over 95%, were forced to return to their country of origin, the same one from which they had fled to save their lives.
Faced with the threat that the agreements represent to the human rights and lives of refugees and those in need of international protection, human rights organizations and civil society organizations in the region have repeatedly denounced that in none of the Central American countries do the conditions exist to constitute itself as a safe third country. On the contrary, these countries are incapable of offering guarantees to protect the life, liberty and integrity of persons seeking asylum.
While the concept of “safe third country” can be used in accordance with international law, this implies at least the availability of international protection and guarantee of rights in the third country, the existence of a fair and efficient procedure for accessing protection and an individualized assessment. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador do not comply with any of these minimum conditions and therefore these agreements are incompatible with the international obligations of the states involved; and should be annulled immediately.
President Joseph Biden, who took office on Wednesday, January 20, has promised to “restore humanity and American values” to their immigration system, as well as “ensure that the United States remains a haven for those fleeing persecution”.
Thus, before the new administration we once again make an urgent call to put an end to the safe third country agreements signed with the countries of northern Central America, in order to honor the commitments made by President Biden and to comply with the international obligations that demand that the United States guarantee the human rights of people in human mobility and, in particular, their right to request and receive protection.
In addition, given the health and socioeconomic crises the region faces as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts of climate change, we require that U.S. authorities and Central American States take all necessary measures to guarantee the human rights of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers without discrimination.
After four years of policies and agreements that have sought to close the space for international protection in the United States and the region, ending the Asylum Cooperation Agreements is imperative to move forward in rebuilding a U.S. migration system that works to be a true haven for those fleeing for their lives.
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