Court blocks US-Guatemala migration deal

Migrants cross the Suchiate River, which delimits the border between Guatemala and Mexico, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, on 11 June 2019. TImage copyright

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Thousands of migrants cross Guatemala on their way north to the US

A court in Guatemala has temporarily blocked a migration deal which could have seen the Central American nation defined as a “safe third country”.

The move would have meant that migrants en route to the US would have had to apply for asylum in Guatemala.

A meeting between the two countries’ leaders originally due on Monday has been postponed with no new date set.

The Trump administration has suspended aid to Guatemala, arguing it is not doing enough to curb the migrant flow.

President Jimmy Morales has been under pressure from the US, but Guatemala’s constitutional court granted an injunction late on Sunday which effectively blocks him from signing the deal.

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“Safe third country” agreements require migrants to seek asylum in the first country designated as “safe” they reach rather than proceed to a country of their choice.

Such a deal would affect the thousands of Hondurans and Salvadoreans who cross Guatemala on their way north to the US, who – under such a deal – would face being sent back to Guatemala, the first “safe” country they entered.

In its injunction, the court said that any such agreement would have to be approved by Guatemala’s Congress first, effectively tying President Morales’s hands.

Designating Guatemala as a “safe third country” has met with stiff opposition in the Central American nation with both of the candidates for president in the upcoming election rejecting it.

While Guatemalans say they fear becoming a “dumping ground” for migrants, human rights groups have pointed to Guatemala’s high levels of crime as a reason for it not qualifying as a suitable “safe third country”.

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On Sunday, the government issued a statement denying it had any plans to sign such a deal.

Only last month, Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart said Guatemalan officials were discussing such a “safe third country” agreement with the US – with US sources confirming such a deal was under discussion.

It is not clear whether the planned meeting between Mr Morales and President Donald Trump will take place anytime soon now that the deal is off the table.

Guatemala, as well as its southern neighbours, El Salvador and Honduras, have all been struggling to curb the flow of people leaving for the US.

The case of a Salvadorean migrant who drowned alongside his daughter trying to cross the Rio Grande prompted Salvadorean President Nayib Bukele to say his country had to do more to fix the problems forcing people to leave.

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