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Honduras denies 'safe third country' agreement for Cubans and Nicaraguans

The Honduran Foreign Minister denied on Monday night press reports that his government had reached a 'third safe country' an asylum agreement with the United States to stop the flow of Cuban and Nicaraguan migrants heading to the U.S. southern border. The two countries are discussing an agreement but it is still unclear if it was signed, diplomatic sources told Univision on Tuesday.
10 Sep 2019 – 01:46 PM EDT
The president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, met with the US Acting Secretary of National Security, Kevin McAleenan, in Washington, August 26, 2019. Crédito: Twitter

Honduran Foreign Minister Lisandro Rosales denied press reports that his government had discussed a 'safe third country' asylum agreement with the United States in a tweet published late Monday night.

The minister said that "contrary to some publications, talks with the US do not contemplate Honduras as a safe third country," and insisted that the agenda of talks with the United States was based on "regional security, investment promotion and temporary employment opportunities and programs that promote regular, safe and orderly migration."

The Honduran newspaper La Prensa published an article on Sunday citing diplomatic sources stating that the two countries reached an agreement at a meeting on August 26 in Washington between the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, and the acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS ), Kevin McAleenan. The special asylum agreement with the United States was specifically designed to stop the flow of Cubans and Nicaraguans seeking to reach the United States to request asylum, according to the sources.

The discussion of the agreement, which was later confirmed by Univision News sources, follows similar agreements with Guatemala and Mexico as part of the Trump administration's strategy to strangle the flow on the southern border between the United States and Mexico. These agreements have been baptized with the name of 'safe third country,' in reference to the way they require migrants to apply for asylum in a country through which they pass before reaching the U.S. border.

The Department of Homeland Security told Univision in a statement: "The United States continues to have productive discussions with the Government of Honduras on a range of bilateral security topics, including migration. We have no announcements to make at this time."

Diplomatic sources told Univision on Tuesday that DHS officials are pressuring the Honduran government to halt the flow of migrants and have proposed a safe third country proposal for Cubans and Nicaraguans, but it was unclear whether an agreement has already been signed.

In a follow-up article, La Prensa insisted that "the controversial migration pact," called an 'Asylum Cooperation Agreement,' was agreed in Washington on August 26.

A Honduran ministerial delegation, headed by Rosales, is due to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with DHS officials this week for further conversations about a wide range of issues facing the the Northern Triangle region.

"Shared commitment"

There was no immediate mention of the agreement at that time. Instead, after the meeting, both governments issued a statement "regarding a shared commitment to improve security and address irregular migration in the Western Hemisphere."

That included shared efforts "to investigate and prosecute those involved in the organization of massive violations of immigration law and crimes of trafficking in persons," as well as "the expansion of legal immigration from Honduras to support the commercial interests of the United States."

The Honduran government also agreed to accelerate the approval of deportations of its citizens, as well as to allow the "mixed" transfer by plane of adults and children.

After the meeting, Hernández told the media in Honduras that so far this year 30,000 people from Africa, South America, Cuba and Haiti had entered Honduras, adding that the number could reach 70,000 by the end of the year. “For us this is a delicate and difficult matter to handle; that's why we come to make the approach that we have to work together, with shared responsibility, although differential," he said.

According to La Prensa, 57% of the migrants were from Cuba, citing official sources. "We can only imagine the enormous weight, the enormous social problem if this enormous number of people remains stuck or accumulates in Honduras and we, as a country, are unable to serve them," Hernández said.

As part of the agreement, the United States agreed to provide funds to implement the plan, including the possible sending of federal agents to Honduras, according to diplomatic sources.

Hernandez is under pressure both at home and in the United States after the Justice Department recently named him in a major drug trafficking and money laundering case in New York that involves one of his brothers. The case goes to trial in October.

By the numbers

A declaration of 'safe third country' would commit Honduras to receive and protect thousands of migrants from countries outside Central America. Hernández's concern points to the number of migrants that Honduras could receive as of the implementation of the agreement. According to data from the Office of Customs and Border Control (CBP), there were 390,308 apprehensions of family units on the Mexican border in June this year.

Of these, 366,530 correspond to Mexicans and Central Americans and 23,778 were immigrants from Asia, the Caribbean and South America.

In July, according to CBP data, a total of 432,838 family units were apprehended at the Mexican border. Of these, 403,195 correspond to Mexicans and Central Americans, and 29,643 would correspond to immigrants from Asia, the Caribbean and South America.