The U.S. is putting asylum seekers on planes to Guatemala — often without telling them where they’re going

GUATEMALA CITY — The chartered U.S. government flights land here every day or two, depositing Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers from the U.S. border. Many arrive with the same question: “Where are we?”

For the first time ever, the United States is shipping asylum seekers who arrive at its border to a “safe third country” to seek refuge there. The Trump administration hopes the program will serve as a model for others in the region.

But during its first weeks, asylum seekers and human rights advocates say, migrants have been put on planes without being told where they were headed, and left here without being given basic instruction about what to do next.

When the migrants land in Guatemala City, they receive little information about what it means to apply for asylum in one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. Those who don’t immediately apply are told to leave the country in 72 hours. The form is labeled “Voluntary Return.”

“In the U.S., the agents told us our cases would be transferred, but they didn’t say where. Then they lined us up to get on the plane,” said Marta, 43, from Honduras. She sat in a migrant shelter here with her 17-year-old son, who nursed a gunshot wound in his left cheek — the work, mother and son say, of a Honduran faction of the MS-13 gang.

“When we looked out the window, we were here,” she said. “We thought, ‘Where are we? What are we supposed to do now?’ ”

Human rights organizations in Guatemala say they have recorded dozens of cases of asylum seekers who were misled by U.S. officials into boarding flights, and who were not informed of their asylum rights upon arrival. Of the 143 Hondurans and Salvadorans sent to Guatemala since the program began last month, only five have applied for asylum, according to the country’s migration agency.

By Kevin Sieff for THE WASHINGTON POST
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