Crisis Severity The severity score from 1 to 5 is based on 31 indicators aggregated into 3 pillars (impact, conditions, and complexity)2.80 Very lowVery high 5
Impact This measures the impact of the crisis itself, in terms of the scope of its geographical, and human effects.3.60 Very lowVery high 5
Humanitarian Conditions This measures the conditions and status of the people affected, including info about the distribution of severity.2.50 Very lowVery high 5
Complexity This measures the complexity of the crisis, in terms of factors that affect its mitigation or resolution.2.70 Very lowVery high 5
Access Constraints This measures the level of humanitarian access constraints.2.0No constraintsExtreme constraints
Widespread insecurity, high levels of violence, and food insecurity have displaced many people inside and across Honduras’ borders. An estimated 190,000 Hondurans are internally displaced due to conflict and violence?
In October 2018, between 7,000 and 10,000 migrants left Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to form two large caravans and multiple smaller groups travelling by foot towards the United States border. A smaller caravan headed North between 14 and 30 January 2019. Migrants continue to migrate through Mexico to its shared border with the US, facing danger and risk throughout their journey. Migrants are on the move to escape violence and persecution, improve their economic situation, or be reunited with their families. ?
Honduras is part of Central America’s ‘Dry Corridor’ and experiences irregular rainfall and prolonged periods of drought, leading to major crop losses and food insecurity. An El Niño episode is expected to affect Honduras in the first seven months of 2019, exacerbating an already precarious food security and nutrition situation, especially for rural communities. ?
As of 14 October, PAHO reported 91,681 suspected cases of dengue including 17,853 severe cases and up to 248 deaths. Total figures across the region now place it as the worst dengue fever outbreak in the history of the Americas. The rainy season, which will last until November, will likely increase the presence of mosquitos increasing the risk of further infection. ?
According to the US government’s official figures of 2019, 60,891 unaccompanied children, 419,831 families, and 109,153 adults from the ‘Northern Triangle of Central America’ (NTCA) – Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala – have been apprehended at the US-Mexican border (U.S. Customs and Border Protection 23/10/2019), accounting for most apprehensions at the border by region of origin. These figures do not include those who approached designated ports of entry, suggesting the actual number of people arriving at the border and making asylum claims is much higher.
Most processed asylum claims in the US originate from NTCA claimants (U.S. Department of Justice 2018), who flee some of the most violent countries in the world (Crisis Group 06/04/2017). However, apprehension of migrants coming from the NTCA has steadily increased over recent years, and they have become the target of both increasingly restrictive immigration policy and partisan political discourse.
The US entered into three separate ‘Asylum-Cooperative Agreements’ with Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala in July and September 2019. According to these agreements, all asylum seekers arriving at the US-Mexican border who have transited through third countries would have their claims processed in El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala. Although restricting asylum claims along the US-Mexican border targets people from the NTCA, the agreements would apply to any asylum-seeker arriving at the US-Mexican border, so long as they transited through third countries.
The agreements have not yet been executed; however if they are, NCTA asylum seekers could be sent back to countries that share many of the features of their country of origin (CFR 01/10/2019): high gang violence, deficits of basic services, and poverty. The agreements however will not send asylum seekers back to their countries of origin, in line nominally with basic norms of “non-refoulement”.
Asylum-seekers, regardless of origin, may be sent to countries they transited - Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. However, some wording in the agreements is so sweeping that asylum seekers may be sent to countries that they never transited through – an Angolan asylum seeker could possibly have their asylum claim transferred to El Salvador even if they never transited through the country (U.S.-El Salvador Agreement) (U.S.- Guatemala Agreement) (The Intercept 23/09/2019).
US officials openly admitted to using the withholding of USD 550-615 million in development, security and humanitarian aid; threats of taxes on outgoing remittances, and tariffs on Central American imports to pressure the NTCA countries into signing these broad agreements (El Faro 18/10/2019, AP 16/10/2019).
The US-Guatemalan and -Salvadoran agreements may also prevent migrants from seeking other kinds of protection in the US, such as “withholdings on removals” (stays on deportation), which would be unprecedented. In acting upon these agreements, the US may be ignoring its obligations under the Convention Against Torture to prevent people from return to situations where they may be tortured (OHCHR, accessed 25/10/2019). The agreements, if implemented, would challenge the legal tenets of “non-refoulement” as vulnerable asylum-seekers would be transferred to insecure contexts.
The deals are signed but still need to pass through the parliaments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and it is unclear how many asylum-seekers each country would accept. Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei has been openly hostile to the deal, although US officials have warned that the country would not benefit from a regional economic development plan if the agreement is not implemented (Reuters 15/10/2019). They are likely to be passed in El Salvador and Honduras, who were promised asylum infrastructure investment (Vox 25/09/2019). The deals were followed by a spate of border control activities, including Mexico adopting new border security measures along its southern border, reinforcing deportations of migrants (ASCOA 03/10/2019); El Salvador inaugurating the first Border Control force in its history; and US DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement deploying 89 agents in Guatemala as part of bilateral training (Reuters 25/06/2019). The agreements follow the US’ recent adoption of increasingly hostile immigration and asylum-seeking legislation and policies (Think Immigration 05/08/2019).
Living conditions in the NCTA are precarious, characterised by fragile economies and widespread insecurity: 29.2% of Salvadorans, 59.3% of Guatemalans, and 61.9% of Hondurans live below their national poverty lines (World Bank Data 2019) and gang violence is a daily occurrence. From January to May 2019, 1,958 murders were recorded in Guatemala with an average of 13 per day. In El Salvador 1,236 murders were registered during this period and Honduras sees an average of 10 murders a day (World Bank 2018 data) (REDLAC 07/2019). Violence has led to the forced displacement of whole communities and has inhibited access to basic services, medical care, and education. However, it is unclear how these agreements will be executed and when; because of this, the risk could manifest in several ways, depending crucially upon whether asylum seekers will be transferred to countries they transited. Ultimately, the U.S. may send varying numbers of potentially vulnerable asylum-seekers to inadequately equipped and unsecure contexts.
Scenario 1: If the deals are rejected by Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras: the U.S. has threatened to withdraw USD 432 million in projects and grants it has reattributed to NTCA countries as a whole (AP 16/10/2019). US President Donald Trump already cut assistance at the beginning of the year, citing the countries’ lack of control on migrant movement. Cuts to assistance have been detrimental to aid activities in the region, suggesting that similar cuts to assistance could severely impact vulnerable populations dependent upon U.S.-funded aid - encompassing emergency food programs, water and nutrition projects, urban violence prevention programs, and substance abuse counseling. (NPR 17/09/2019 quoting Save the Children and Mercy Corps) (Reuters 04/10/2019). The US government has also threatened to impose taxes and tariffs on remittances and exports (WSJ 23/07/2019) possibly straining economies that are heavily dependent upon remittances, and for whom the US is a major trading partner (Vice 29/07/2019).
Scenario 2.1: All countries ratify their agreements and asylum seekers are transferred to countries they transited: in this case Guatemala will likely see a very high number of transfers of Salvadoran and Honduran asylum-seekers from the US, as well as of other nationalities who frequently arrive in Guatemala to transit through Mexico. This may strain already limited infrastructure and will force asylum-seekers to live in contexts of low food security, restrained access to basic services, and very few public housing opportunities. Very few migrants transit through Honduras and El Salvador, so there may be few transfers to these countries.
Scenario 2.2: All countries ratify their agreements, and asylum seekers are transferred to countries they did not necessarily pass through: In this case the agreements undertaken between the U.S. and the NCTA countries would de facto end asylum on the U.S.’ southern border for poorer asylum-seekers who must transit through a third-country. All asylum-seekers who have transited through a third country could be sent to Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador unless they were nationals of those countries; asylum-seekers may be transferred to countries they are unfamiliar with and have never transited through, making them even more vulnerable.
Scenario 3.1: Guatemala rejects the deal, but El Salvador and Honduras implement theirs and asylum seekers will be transferred to countries they transited: It is unclear whether this would significantly impact most asylum-seekers since very few transit through El Salvador and Honduras. Nicaraguans and other nationalities seeking asylum passing through those countries may be subject to deportations upon arrival at the U.S. border and will be sent to insecure contexts lacking access to basic services.
Scenario 3.2: If Guatemala rejects the deal and asylum seekers are transferred to countries they did not necessarily pass through: in this case both El Salvador and Honduras will see a higher concentration of asylum-seekers arriving, further straining their provision of basic services and their asylum infrastructure and forcing asylum-seekers to live in contexts of low food security, lack of access to basic services, and few public housing options.
NTCA countries do not have the infrastructure needed to adequately accommodate asylum-seekers (Crisis Group 25/10/2017). In NCTA countries, there is a severe lack of support for persons displaced by violence and their needs are mainly addressed by civil society organisations – indicative of how asylum-seekers may be treated. There is a lack of shelters for displaced persons in both El Salvador and Honduras and in Guatemala there is a severe housing deficit. (REDLAC 07/2019) Asylum-seekers’ shelter, income, and basic services risk not being met in such contexts.
NCTA countries also have severely limited capacity to process asylum cases (UNHCR 2018, Vice 29/07/2019) (El Faro 21/09/2019). Relief organizations have already reported that there is a lack of capacity to treat recently returned persons (MSF 25/09/2019), all factors suggesting future transferred asylum seekers may be left for months and perhaps years in insecure and ill-prepared contexts.
Scenario 4: People may stay in Mexico and refuse to be transferred. Mexico’s capacity to process asylum claims is limited (MMC 20/12/2018) (REDLAC 07/2019) and since September of this year Mexico has deployed more than 25,000 National Guard personnel to its borders and has increased its deportations of migrants - most of whom come from the NCTA (AS COA 03/10/2019) - suggesting there is an increasingly hostile environment towards migrants. In border towns many Mexican deportees from the U.S. and asylum-seekers live in informal settlements or overcrowded shelters (WOLA 07/05/2019). Many border towns have little if any capacity to accommodate for asylum-seekers’ needs (MSF 18/10/2019) and foreigners, notably women and children, are a common target for kidnapping and harassment (CEPAL 2018). (New Yorker 01/10/2019)
Food Security and livelihoods: The arrival of an El Niño episode in the beginning of 2019 lead to below average rains which improved later in the year. Food production and availability for impoverished rural communities relying on agricultural livelihoods was nonetheless constrained by the early below average rains.?
Protection: High levels of gang-violence and other criminal activities drive displacement in the Northern Triangle, where homicide rates are among the highest in the world.?
Asylum-Cooperation Agreement with the US
The United States entered into three separate ‘Asylum-Cooperative Agreements’ with Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala in July and September 2019. These agreements maintain that all asylum seekers arriving at the US-Mexican border who transited third countries will be transferred for claims processing in El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala, instead of the US. Restricting asylum claims along the US-Mexican border targets people from the Northern Triangle, who make up one of the largest groups of US asylum-seekers, as well as the largest number of apprehended people at the United States’ southern border. ?
Wording in the agreements is vague and may also apply to all asylum seekers arriving at the United States’ southern border who have transited a third country, not just people from the Northern Triangle. ? The timelines for implementation of these agreements have been the subject of widespread speculation. However, when executed as written, these agreements may send asylum seekers to countries with widespread gang violence and deficits of basic services and civil protection – resembling the contexts asylum seekers have fled. Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras may see arrivals of thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers, putting strain on already inadequate asylum systems. ?The agreements state, however, that asylum seekers will not be returned to their countries of origin.
The agreement between the US and Honduras has not yet been implemented.