Human Rights First Warns Against Implementation of Honduras Asylum Agreement During Pandemic
WASHINGTON - Today, the Department of Homeland Security published the United States’ “asylum cooperative agreement,” agreement with Honduras - a move that may signal plans to move ahead with the highly flawed agreement to send asylum-seekers to Honduras, a country that is far from safe, and to do so during the global coronavirus pandemic.
“This administration’s deal to send people seeking refuge to one of the most dangerous countries in the world has always been a horrible idea and implementation of it at this time would be unconscionable,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Honduras has failed miserably to protect the lives and human rights of its own citizens. There is simply no credible reason to believe that Honduras will actually protect refugees seeking asylum from other countries – whether from Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba or elsewhere. The Trump administration’s claim that Honduras is a safe country for asylum seekers is beyond absurd and will endanger lives. Not only does this agreement violate U.S. and international refugee law, but that the Trump administration would send vulnerable people to an unsafe place in the middle of a global pandemic is barbaric.”
Honduras does not meet the legal requirements for a safe country for asylum-seekers under U.S. and international law. The U.S. State Department reported that migrants, including refugees, are vulnerable to attacks by criminal groups there – groups that the Honduran government is unable or unwilling to control, particularly given rampant corruption and the ties between government officials and criminal entities in Honduras. Just today, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the former head of the Honduran National Police, Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, with drug trafficking and weapons charges, accusing him of abusing his law enforcement position as part of a conspiracy involving high-ranking Honduran politicians – including the Honduran president.
“Trump administration officials should be pressing Honduras to address corruption and protect the safety and human rights of its own citizens so they no longer flee in search of protection,” said Acer. “Instead, with this publication, Trump officials appear to be taking steps towards implementing this flawed deal with the Honduran government despite rampant corruption, its inability to protect its own citizens and the fact that asylum-seekers will not actually be safe there.”
Asylum-seekers in Honduras are at risk, not only due to their inherent vulnerabilities as refugees but also on account of their race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. Women, children, and LGBT individuals, in particular, face high levels of violence in Honduras with many forced to flee to seek protection elsewhere. Two refugees from Nicaragua were murdered in Honduras in 2019.
Indigenous people and communities of Afro-descent are also targets for threats and violence in Honduras. Human trafficking is widespread in Honduras and often causes internal displacement. The 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report for Honduras found that “women, children, LGBTI Hondurans, migrants, and individuals with low education levels are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.”
In addition, the country’s virtually non-existent asylum system does not have the ability to assess, adjudicate, and manage the cases of the many Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, and other asylum-seekers that the Trump administration plans to send there. The U.S. Department of State Human Rights Report revealed that the Honduran government had received 14 applications for asylum in 2017, of which it approved three. A subsequent report called the country’s asylum system “nascent,” noting that its effectiveness “had not been fully proven.”
In January, Honduras indicated it had agreed to take asylum seekers from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil and Nicaragua under the agreement, though the agreement’s sweeping terms could apply to nationals of any country (except Honduras).