The finalisation of a new deal between the United States government and Honduras, described as an “asylum cooperative agreement,” has given rise to widespread criticism. The deal allows those seeking asylum in the U.S. to instead be sent to Honduras. Many asylum advocates have criticised the deal, stating that it is a blatant violation of the U.S.’s obligations in regard to asylum under international law. The text of the deal was published on Thursday, a day before it was to be published in the Federal Register to take effect. The agreement is part of the U.S. governments’ continuous efforts to make applying for asylum in the U.S. increasingly difficult, in an attempt to reduce the number of asylum seekers crossing the Southern border.
The reality remains that as long as high rates of persecution and violence are continuous in Central America, those forced to flee will continue to attempt to claim asylum in the United States. The hostile deals and policies implemented by the U.S. government cannot alter this fundamental reality and only serve as a departure from its obligations under international law.
Critics of this deal have emphasised that the situation in Honduras as it stands entails that its capacity to accommodate and process asylum seekers is significantly limited. In 2019, Honduras had a murder rate of 44 per 100,000 inhabitants, which represents one of the highest rates globally. As a result of its limited capacity to process asylum seekers, it has been highlighted that many may choose to simply return back to their home country as opposed to going to Honduras. Yael Schrader, the senior U.S. advocate for Refugees International, told Al Jazeera that the effect of the new deal was: “The U.S. is indirectly sending people back to face persecution.”
Eleanor Acer, director of the Refugee Protection Programme at Human Rights First, has a similar perspective on the deal. She stated: “Honduras has failed miserably to protect the lives and human rights of its own citizens. There is simply no credible reason to believe Honduras will actually protect refugees seeking asylum from other countries.”
Chad Wolf, the acting Homeland Security Secretary, has attempted to justify the deal by arguing that if asylum seekers can make claims in other countries in the region, the numbers undertaking the dangerous journey to the United States border will decrease. However, the reality is that sending those seeking safety to a dangerous country cannot be justified, especially in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. As such, the deal appears as little more than a product of deep-rooted anti-immigration sentiment in the U.S., which illustrates a disregard for the lives and safety of asylum seekers.
The U.S. State Department published a Human Rights Report in 2018 which established that migrants and refugees are particularly vulnerable to attacks from criminal groups in Honduras. Two Nicaraguan refugees were murdered in Honduras in 2019, according to Human Rights First. It is clear that Honduras cannot be classified as a safe country for asylum seekers under either U.S. or international law. Eleanor Acer summarised the reality of the situation by stating: “The 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.”
This deal simply seeks to shift the responsibility of processing asylum claims and demonstrates a glaring lack of humanity on the part of the U.S. government. The U.S. must put an end to its cruel policies which prioritise its own state security over the value of human lives.