Thousands of migrants take free rides home - GulfToday

Thousands of migrants take free rides home


Migrant children who have been separated from their families walk near tents at a detention centre in Homestead, Florida. Agence France-Presse

More than 2,000 Central American migrants seeking to settle in the United States have given up and accepted free rides home under a 10-month-old programme funded by the US government and run by a United Nations agency, according to a U.N. official. The “Assisted Voluntary Return” programme has paid for buses or flights for 2,170 migrants who either never reached the United States or were detained after crossing the border and then sent to Mexico to await US immigration hearings, according to Christopher Gascon, an official with the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The $1.65 million programme, funded by the US State Department, is raising concerns among immigration advocates who say it could violate a principle under international law against returning asylum seekers to countries where they could face persecution.

The returned migrants have not been interviewed by US asylum officers. But Gascon said his agency screens all participants to ensure they are not seeking US asylum and want to go back.

Gascon, head of the IOM’s Mexico mission, said the programme provides a safer and more humane means of return than the migrants could arrange on their own.

The effort, whose scope and controversial aspects have not been previously reported, is the first by the State Department and UN to target Central American migrants in Mexico on such a large scale. The State Department would not comment on the record about its role.

Gascon said the State Department reached out to the IOM last year as caravans of thousands of Central American migrants travelled through Mexico toward the US border.

US President Donald Trump called the caravans an “invasion” and has made stemming immigration a centerpiece of his administration and 2020 re-election campaign.

Migrant advocates are particularly concerned about 347 people returned by the IOM who had been stuck in Mexico under a controversial Trump administration policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).


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