The human rights crisis for migrants fleeing structural violence in Latin America

Published by Brent Patterson on

Those fleeing from human rights violations, poverty, violence and climate breakdown in Honduras, Guatemala and other Latin American countries face numerous obstacles and infringements of internationally recognized human rights norms.

A militarized American border

In July 2017, the American Friends Service Committee highlighted, “Over the past four decades, policies under every presidential administration – regardless of political party – have systematically militarized southern border communities, criminalizing millions of immigrants and creating repressive conditions from California to Texas.”

That article further notes, “The impacts of border militarization are deep and lasting—individuals deprived of their human and civil rights, families torn apart, loved ones deported back to dangerous situations.”

A militarized Mexican border

This past June, CBC reported that Mexico has deployed almost 15,000 soldiers and members of its National Guard on its northern border to stem the flow of migration across its border into the United States according to the head of the Mexican army.

More migrants detained in Mexico

On July 1, The Washington Post reported, “In the weeks since Mexico signed a pact with the United States to stop migration [from Mexico into the United States], conditions in detention centers and shelters [in Mexico] have deteriorated dramatically, according to diplomats and human rights officials who have visited the facilities.”

That article highlights, “Mexico has detained 99,203 migrants this year and deported 71,110 of them, according to its immigration agency.”

U.S. ICE agents to be trained at Fort Benning

In September, Newsweek reported that the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agency is looking to build a training centre at Fort Benning in Georgia.

That’s the location of the School of Americas (SOA), now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

The Jacobin comments, “The SOA has trained more than 83,000 Latin American security forces since its founding. Notorious graduates of the SOA — including nearly a dozen dictators and some of the worst human rights violators in the continent — are guilty of using torture, rape, assassination, forced disappearance, massacres, and forced displacement of communities to wage war against their own people.”

Safe Third Country Agreements

And in October, the Trump administration in the United States signed bilateral agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

PRI explains, “The three deals would allow the U.S. to return asylum-seekers to countries they traversed en route to the U.S. They would shift the burden of stopping asylum-seekers from reaching the US onto the very region from which most of them are fleeing.”

That article adds, “The deals resemble ‘safe third-country’ agreements, or bilateral deals where one country may prevent individuals arriving at its ports of entry from applying for asylum on the basis that they could have applied for and received international protection in another country they traversed.”

It also notes, “Human rights advocates, meanwhile, have decried the agreements as dangerous violations of asylum-seekers’ rights and threats to their safety: People could be back to some of the world’s most dangerous countries, where they would face high levels of violence, crime, corruption and poverty.”

Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement

And if migrants were to make it past those obstacles, they would face the impediment of the Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement.

The Globe and Mail has previously explained, “The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States, signed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, means that with few exceptions, refugee claimants must make their claim in the first safe country they arrive in. That means virtually all asylum seekers attempting to enter Canada through a U.S. port of entry will be turned away.”

Significantly the article adds that “because Canada is a signatory of the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum seekers entering the country between border points are not automatically deported and may make asylum claims.”

In other words, the agreement, reached by then-Liberal prime minister Paul Martin and then-U.S. president George W. Bush, does not cover asylum-seekers who cross through unguarded sections of the Canada-U.S. border.

Expansion of Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement?

It would appear that the Canadian government is trying to close that option too.

In April, Reuters reported, “Canada wants the agreement rewritten to apply to the entire border. …’We’d like to be able to get [the United States] to agree that we can, if somebody comes across, we just send them back’, [a Canadian official] told Reuters, adding Canada had raised the issue ‘at least a dozen’ times since.”

More migrants detained in Canada

In July, the Canadian Press reported, “The CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] says there were 6,609 people detained in holding centres in 2017-18, up from 4,248 a year earlier. There were 1,831 detainees held in jails last year, compared to 971 in 2016-17.”

This NeverHome.ca article indicates the numbers are even higher:

“The Canadian government jailed over 87,317 migrants without charge between 2006-2014 and spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars over five years to detain migrants.”

“Migrants are the only population within Canada who can be jailed simply on administrative grounds without being charged with a specific criminal offense.”

Canada rejects most refugee claims from Mexico

In February 2018, Global News reported, “Ottawa imposed a visa requirement on visitors from Mexico in July 2009, after the country became Canada’s top source of refugee claims, which totaled 9,000 that year, most of which were rejected.”

That article then notes that the visa requirement was lifted on December 1, 2016 and that, “Three-quarters of the Mexican refugee claims that were heard by the Refugee Board in 2017 were either rejected, abandoned or withdrawn.”

Few spaces for those from the Americas

In July 2018, University of Toronto Professor Anne-Emanuelle Birn and York University Professor Liisa L. North commented in this analysis, “In 2017, Canada allocated a pitiful number of spots to Central Americans: out of 25,000 total spaces for resettled refugees, just 380 for all of the Americas.”

Human rights

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has noted, “Human rights violations against migrants can include a denial of civil and political rights such as arbitrary detention, torture, or a lack of due process, as well as economic, social and cultural rights such as the rights to health, housing or education.”

It adds, “The denial of migrants’ rights is often closely linked to discriminatory laws and to deep-seated attitudes of prejudice or xenophobia.”

In May 2017, Médecins Sans Frontières‎ (MSF) highlighted, “68.3 percent of the migrant and refugee populations entering Mexico reported being victims of violence during their transit toward the United States [and] nearly one-third of the women surveyed had been sexually abused during their journey.”

That report explained, “MSF patients reported that the perpetrators of violence included members of gangs and other criminal organizations, as well as members of the Mexican security forces responsible for their protection.”

Peace Brigades International is a global movement of activists that stands in solidarity with threatened human rights defenders around the world. We work to uphold the human rights of migrants and those who work to defend their human rights.

To read about the accompaniment of the Casa del Migrante Saltillo on the Texas-Mexico border by Peace Brigades International, please see PBI-Mexico expresses concern about continued harassment of the Saltillo Migrant Shelter.

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