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    Super Moderator Newmexican's Avatar
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    US and Mexico agree to improve asylum access for tens of thousands of refugees

    US and Mexico agree to improve asylum access for tens of thousands of refugees

    The UN refugee summit in Costa Rica sought to raise the profile of and seek improved responses to the Central American refugee crisis
    Sibylla Brodzinsky
    Tuesday 12 July 2016

    The US and Mexico have agreed to improve access to asylum for the tens of thousands of Central Americans fleeing unbridled violence in their countries, and to explore alternatives to detention.

    The commitments were laid out in a draft document circulated at the end of a two-day meeting last week on the plight of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Hosted by the UN refugee agency, the summit in Costa Rica sought to raise the profile of and seek improved responses to the Central American refugee crisis, and brought together NGOs, representatives from refugees’ countries of origin, as well as those from transit and asylum countries.

    “There isn’t enough attention paid to this situation in the Northern Triangle, which has been unfolding over the last couple of years,” Volker Türk, the UN’s assistant high commissioner for refugees, told the Guardian in a phone interview during the meeting.

    Though Central America produces large numbers of economic migrants who head to the United States or Canada seeking better employment opportunities, it is thesurge in asylum seekers that has caused regional concern.

    These are mostly people fleeing violence inflicted on their communities by brutal criminal gangs who regularly target civilians, raping, murdering, forcibly recruiting and kidnapping their victims in exchange for exorbitant ransom payments.

    El Salvador had the world’s highest murder rates last year, while Honduras and Guatemala are in the top five countries with the most murders per capita.

    As violence in the Northern Triangle spiked in 2015, the number of asylum seekers from these countries swelled to more than 110,000 – a five-fold increase from 2012. Most are seeking refuge in Mexico and the United States, but some have also sought asylum in Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.

    This year 146,000 people from the Northern Triangle are expected to apply for asylum, according to UNHCR projections.

    Of the three Northern Triangle countries, only Honduras has openly recognised that its citizens are being displaced by violence at home. El Salvador and Honduras have shied away from recognising that they are producing refugees even when asylum countries are accepting them.

    “It is better to face the reality and to deal with it rather than to ignore it. Because if you ignore it, it will bite you in the end,” Turk said.

    The countries agreed to set up a monitoring system to collect and analyse data on the patterns of displacement. The UNHCR is seeking $23.5m to set up offices in the Northern Triangle region to better monitor the situation at the source and to observe the fate of deportees who often face the same violence they fled from.

    Asylum countries – mainly the United States and Mexico, but also Belize, Costa Rica and Panama – agreed to ensure the “timely identification and documentation, in particular at border areas, of persons in need of international protection” and to “implement, where possible, alternatives to detention”.

    Türk said that during the talks, NGOs in particular had “encouraged the governments of Mexico and the US to realise that the best way to deal with it is not through a detention approach”.

    However, while some US agencies are willing to explore alternatives, detention has become part of a broader deterrence strategy since the arrival in 2014 of tens of thousands of women and unaccompanied children from Central America seeking asylum in the US, according to the American Immigration Council (AIC).

    In addition to detaining asylum seekers while their applications are processed, the strategy has also included a media campaign highlighting the risks of migration and support for Mexico’s own southern border containment policies.

    But a study by the AIC found that these measures did not deter those who felt their lives were at risk at home. “The unprecedented levels of crime and violence that have overwhelmed the Northern Triangle countries in recent years have produced a refugee situation for those directly in the line of fire, making no amount of danger or chance of deportation sufficient to dissuade those victims from leaving,” the study concluded.

    The meeting in Costa Rica came ahead of a planned summit on migrants and refugees on the sidelines of the UN general assembly on 19 September and a separate summit called by Barack Obama on refugees 20 September.

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