Press Release

IACHR Urges El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico to Guarantee the Rights of Migrants and Refugees Traveling Through the Region

February 7, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the states of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico to guarantee the rights of migrants and asylum seekers at all stages of their journeys through the region. The IACHR noted that new forms of mobility within Central America and toward the United States are posing challenges to states, which must find ways to respond to migrants and refugees in their countries of origin, while in transit, and in their destinations that are in accordance with inter-American standards on the protection of and respect for these individuals’ human rights.

The IACHR has urged states to respond appropriately to the large-scale flows of migrants from Central American countries that are known as migrant and refugee caravans, such as the recent caravan that began in Honduras and passed through Guatemala and Mexico on its way to the United States. The IACHR reminded states that they must guarantee people the right to leave any territory, to seek and receive asylum, to nonrefoulement, and to guarantees of due process for all formalities and procedures to recognize the person’s refugee status or provide guidance on complementary protection. It also recalled that it is states’ duty to provide access to humanitarian assistance, which also implies enabling and not hindering aid organizations and agencies in accessing sites and facilities where displaced people have gathered or are being held.

According to publicly available information, on January 15, 2020, a new migrant caravan was formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and, after crossing Guatemala, it reached the Rodolfo Robles transnational bridge in Ciudad Hidalgo on the border with Mexico between January 18 and 20. According to information provided by the state of Guatemala, its government coordinated efforts to provide support and humanitarian assistance for migrants as they traveled through the country. At present, the caravan is reportedly made up of around 2000 people requesting entry to and transit through Mexican territory. In response to this request, Mexico’s National Institute for Migration published Press Release No. 004/2020, which stated that it could not assign a migration status that merely entailed travelling through Mexican territory and instead authorized these migrants to enter the country in small groups to enable them to comply with immigration formalities, giving priority to children, the elderly, and people in vulnerable situations. At a press conference, the Mexican state also stressed that these migrants would have access to shelters, medical care, and the option of remaining in Mexico.

The Mexican state’s approach entailed allowing people into Mexico gradually, in small groups, which created long waits at the border. This led to worrying episodes involving the use of force by the National Guard in response to migrants’ frustration at being held at the border checkpoint for hours. Groups of migrants clashed with Mexican immigration authorities, while hundreds of others, sensing resistance on the part of immigration officials, attempted to cross the Suchiate River or went deep into the jungle along roads in the border area. According to the information the IACHR has received, hundreds of migrants who managed to reach Mexican territory, most of whom were Hondurans, were allegedly intercepted by police operations, detained in migrant holding centers, or returned to their country of origin on planes or buses, with logistical support from the National Guard. In this regard, the IACHR acknowledged that the Mexican state has expressed its willingness to collaborate with it and has demonstrated this by agreeing to allow the IACHR to visit the northern and southern borders of the country. The date of this visit will be confirmed in the next few days.

This situation has come on the heels of other similar events in the recent history of migration between Central and North America, in which the IACHR was repeatedly able to verify the existence of obstacles to accessing social and legal assistance, particularly on the part of people being held at border crossings, migrant-holding centers, or waiting outside the territory for their applications to be processed. The IACHR received information on these obstacles through organizations working on the ground to protect migrants and refugees in the region and safeguard their rights. Over the course of 2019, the IACHR monitored migration dynamics in Central America, Mexico, and the United States through visits, press releases (no. 37/2019; no. 228/2019; and no. 335/2019), and reports targeting specific issues.

The IACHR also noted with concern that one direct effect of restrictive migration policies and the criminalization of migration is the proliferation of informal, unsafe border crossing points. This leads to greater insecurity and serious risks of human rights violations against migrants, especially women, children, and adolescents. On this point, according to information published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), between January 2016 in June 2019, around 256 migrants died attempting to cross the Rio Grande on the border between Mexico and the United States of America.

The IACHR emphasized that although states have the power to decide on and apply procedures and criteria for receiving and authorizing migrants to remain in their countries and to handle assistance and security at borders, these powers must remain in harmony with the standards of respect for the human rights of people in situations of mobility and displacement that are currently in force. The IACHR also drew attention to its recent publication, Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Trafficking, which is a benchmark for best practices and the design of standards, protocols, and public policies.  

On this point, the IACHR once again drew attention to the provisions set out in international human rights law on the rights of migrants and refugees and inter-American standards on the matter. Specifically, the IACHR emphasized that no migrant should be arbitrarily arrested, detained, or otherwise deprived of their liberty, and that under no circumstances should migrant children or adolescents be detained. In such cases, the IACHR urged states to guarantee that migrants will not be held in detention and to prioritize ways of evaluating what approach is in the best interests of the children in question and will favor family unity.

Likewise, the IACHR stressed that force should only be used during migration-related operations in compliance with the principles of legitimate purpose, absolute necessity, and proportionality. Specifically, it noted that states should refrain from resorting to the use of force in response to the arrival of migrants en masse. In such cases, the IACHR also emphasized the importance of ensuring that there are guarantees of due process for all legal procedures and that the people in question have access to protection measures, personal interviews with legal representatives, and adequate means for preparing for such procedures. The IACHR stressed with particular concern that human rights organizations, organizations assisting migrants and refugees, and humanitarian organizations must be guaranteed full access to sites and facilities where migrants are being held.

The IACHR acknowledged that the forced migration of people from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala is one of the main human rights challenges facing the region. According to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of asylum-seekers from the Northern Triangle of Central America and Mexico increased by over 5000% between 2012 and 2018, and that the number of people who have been granted refugee status has more than quadrupled. On this point, the IACHR welcomed the recent passing of the standards for protecting victims of forced displacement in El Salvador and praised the country’s efforts to raise the profile of the issue and address it.

In this regard, Commissioner Julissa Mantilla Falcón, IACHR rapporteur on the rights of migrants, said: “the migratory flows that we are witnessing today are growing and will continue to grow, and states must go about their work with profound respect for the human rights of migrants and for due legal process in all procedures that relate to them.” With regard to the presence of women, children and adolescents, and elderly people among the migrant caravan, Commissioner Mantilla Falcón noted that “in the case of groups requiring special protection—such as children and adolescents, women, people with disabilities, LGBTI people, and the elderly—states are up against the challenge of protecting and safeguarding their rights with absolute respect for the principle of nondiscrimination.”

Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, the president of the IACHR and rapporteur on the rights of children and rapporteur for Mexico, stated: “we are continuing to observe complex new situations that are arising in connection with the displacement and movement of migrants. This implies that states cannot fail to comply with their duty to protect migrants, especially children and adolescents, women, people with disabilities, LGBTI people, and the elderly, among other groups.”

The IACHR urged states to refrain from criminalizing migration, to guarantee respect for the integrity and dignity of all people under their jurisdictions, to guarantee people the right to seek and be granted asylum, and to ensure procedural guarantees are in place for all processes that may lead people seeking international protection being returned to their countries of origin and to the situations that gave rise to their fears or led to persecution, trauma, or other violations of their rights.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States whose principal functions are to promote the observance and defense of human rights and to serve as an advisory body to the Organization in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 027/20