MEXICO CITY: Amnesty International said Thursday the United States is violating international law by sending asylum seekers back to Mexico to await their court dates, a policy it condemned as “disgraceful, mean-spirited and unlawful.”
Speaking a day after the US sent the first asylum applicant back across its southern border – a 55-year-old Honduran man who arrived in a migrant caravan last year – a team of top officials from the rights group accused the Trump administration of placing people who are fleeing for their lives at even greater risk.
“This clearly constitutes refoulement, the return of individuals who are at risk of persecution… to a country where they might be subjected to further harm,“ Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, told a press briefing.
President Donald Trump announced the new policy last year, dubbing it “Remain in Mexico”. The Department of Homeland Security has since rebranded it the “Migrant Protection Protocols”.
The policy aims to curb what Trump calls “catch and release” – allowing migrants who cross the border without papers and claim asylum to remain in the US while their cases are processed.
Officials say many of those people never show up for their court dates and disappear into the US as illegal immigrants. Most are migrants fleeing poverty and gang violence in Central America’s “Northern Triangle”: Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The US asylum system is badly backlogged, with 800,000 requests currently pending.
However, the argument that the new policy is about insufficient capacity is “absurd“, said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
“This is simply one more measure meant to make the system as inaccessible, punitive and fearful as possible, with an eye on the part of the US government to deter others from arriving. And under international refugee law, deterrence is absolutely forbidden,“ he said.
Migrants have been tortured, raped and killed in Mexico’s often violent border regions.
Trump himself tweeted Thursday that the record number of murders registered in Mexico last year – 33,341 – was “a big contributor to the Humanitarian Crisis taking place on our Southern Border”.
The US has not said how many asylum seekers it plans to return under the new policy. — AFP