Canada turns away asylum seekers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. resumes deportation flights to Guatemala

Published by Brent Patterson on

On April 7, the Latin American Working Group posted, “This past March, Javier Martínez of Casa del Migrante de Saltillo, was in Washington D.C. as part of a Peace Brigades International delegation to visit with lawmakers and U.S. advocacy groups.”

PBI-Canada had planned meetings for Javier in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal from March 14-19, but those meetings had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.

The LAWG article highlights, “Javier expressed that all of the actions against the shelter and the migrants it helps are attempts to discredit and delegitimize their work. This pressure is not arbitrary or without cause; it is a direct result of the Trump Administration’s efforts to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from accessing the United States”

On April 13, this article in Waging Nonviolence noted, “This current moment of pandemic is putting asylum-seekers at even greater risk, with poor sanitation and limited medical care available to the large numbers of people returned to Mexico and living in close quarters in [border cities].”

Then on April 15, The Guardian reported, “Guatemala again began receiving deportation flights from the United States on Monday [April 13] after a one-week pause prompted by three deportees testing positive for Covid-19.”

ABC News adds, “Guatemala, along with El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, has urged the U.S. to halt removals and deportations or take other steps to stop the virus’ spread from the U.S., now the epicenter of the pandemic.”

“But last Friday [April 10], President Donald Trump instead signed a memorandum to authorize sanctions against any country that doesn’t accept removals from the U.S. — a threat to all four countries, despite concerns about the ability of their fragile health systems to handle severe outbreaks.”

The Los Angeles Times comments, “With chronic poverty, corruption and violence and dysfunctional healthcare systems, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — Central America’s Northern Triangle — are highly vulnerable to the pandemic, but they are also dependent on the U.S. for economic and security assistance. They have little leverage against a Trump administration clearly determined to continue deportations despite the risk of worsening the virus’s spread.”

Refugees International says, “Unless deportees have access to testing prior to boarding the plane, there is no guarantee that they are not at risk of spreading the virus to others on the plane or to their families once they arrive home.”

It adds, “Continuing to deport sick people who lack access to healthcare, a financial safety net, or even basic necessities like potable water once they arrive in Guatemala is irresponsible and places unnecessary risks on some of the most vulnerable.”

Christy Thornton, a Latin American studies professor at Johns Hopkins University, says, “The United States government is actively and knowingly spreading the virus to Central America through deportation.”

The authors of the Waging Nonviolence article further comment, “The Trump administration is using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to further choke off access to asylum and due process under the guise of ‘public health’.”

Canada and migrant rights during the pandemic

On March 20, the New York Times reported, “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reversed his government’s open immigration stance and said Canada would begin turning back asylum seekers who walk in from the United States outside of official border crossings.”

“The decision to turn back irregular asylum seekers came three days after Mr. Trudeau’s government said that it planned only to quarantine them for two weeks once they crossed into Canada.”

That article also notes, “Justin Mohammed, a human rights law and policy campaigner at Amnesty International Canada [and a former Peace Brigades International volunteer], said Mr. Trudeau’s action was identical to measures used by the United States at its border with Mexico — steps his group views as a violation of international law.”

The Canadian Press has also reported, “Refugee advocates say Canada could be in legal hot water if the United States deports asylum seekers turned away from Canada as part of a broader deal with the U.S. to close the border to all but non-essential traffic.”

“Canada’s international obligations on refugees include a commitment to ‘non-refoulement’ — not sending refugees back to countries where they could face torture or persecution.”

That article adds, “[Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada] says if a refugee turned away by Canada is later deported to a country where they are harmed, Canada could be considered complicit in this outcome and therefore legally liable.”

On April 15, PBI-Canada joined with 153 other organizations and 147 prominent individuals in this public statement calling on governments at all levels across this country to institute greater human rights oversight of their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by Morena Perez Joachin/LA Times.

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