Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, Guatemala’s immigration authority (Instituto Guatealteco de Migración) reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders has been established. The Guatemalan immigration authority also reported that currently only Guatemalan national residents and accredited consular diplomats are allowed to enter the country. Non-citizens are only allowed to leave the country and are prohibited from entering.
According to news reports, on 20 April, more than 5,000 Guatemalan nationals were in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the United States. Of these, almost 4,000 were detained for immigration reasons and more than 1,000 were children. Deportations from the United States to Guatemala have not been suspended and from 29 March to 22 May, 1,200 undocumented migrants have been deported. On 11 May, official statistics reported that 102 contaminated migrants had been deported back to Guatemala.
The Guatemalan government has suspended several deportation flights and requested that the United States provide a health certificate for every deportee attesting that they are clear from Covid-19. However, according to the president of the “Cooperacion Migrante” organisation, migrants carrying the virus continue to arrive as the United States is carrying out Covid-19 tests at random. In addition, Douglas Gonzales, an academic and political analyst, said that the main obstacle to controlling the importation of Covid-19 cases is not in deportations from the USA but rather that the country does “not have the capacity to control migratory flows on a land border as large as the one with Mexico.”
The Guatemalan Ombudsman (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos Guatemalteca) criticised the government for the conditions in which returned migrants were held in a makeshift reception centre located in the Guatemala City airport. The BBC reported that returnees were only given mats to sleep on the floor of a room inside the airport (see image).
Guatemalan prisons hold 26,160 persons with 52 percent of prisoners serving prison sentences and 48% placed on remand. On 5 June, the Ministry of Health of Guatemala confirmed the death of two prisoners from Covid-19 in the Centro de Detencion Preventiva para Hombres de la Zona 18, which currently has a population of 4,751 persons. On 28 May, the Ombudsman criticised the lack of protective equipment and sanitary products such as antibacterial gel, masks and gloves, in the country’s 21 prisons.
On 13 May, Prensa Libre reported that the National Preventive Mechanism (the national office for the prevention of torture) conducted visits in the Quetzaltenango prisons, hospitals and “migration centres” which hold returned migrants. According to the national office, the Cantel Prison has 2,312 prisoners and is vastly overcrowded, running at around 200% of its capacity. There are very few sanitary measures in place and there is a lack of hygienic products.
- Instituto Guatemalteco de Migracion, Global Detention Project Covid-19 Survey, 9 June 2020.
- R, M. Lima, “Guatemala: Traen los Deportados el Coronavirus?,” DW, 22 May 2020, https://www.dw.com/es/guatemala-traen-los-deportados-el-coronavirus/a-53538482
- M. G. Diaz, “Coronavirus en Guatemala: los Contagios de Covid-19 entre Migrantes que Llevaron al Pais a Suspender los Vuelos de Deportados desde EE.UU.,” BBC News, 21 April 2020, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-52364025
- P. Flores, “Laura y el Miedo a Que Su Esposo Muera por Covid-19 en Carcel de la Zona 18,” Nomada, 6 June 2020, https://nomada.gt/pais/actualidad/laura-y-el-miedo-a-que-su-esposo-muera-por-covid-19-en-carcel-de-la-zona-18/
- EFE, “El Covid-19 Amenaza las Carceles de Guatemala con Casos Positivos y Muerte,” El Diario.es, 28 May 2020, https://www.eldiario.es/sociedad/COVID-19-amenaza-carceles-Guatemala-positivos_0_1032048004.html
- M. J. Longo, “Relatores Consideran que las Carceles de Quetzaltenango son Vulnerables a Contagios de Covid-19,” Prensa Libre, 13 May 2020, https://www.prensalibre.com/ciudades/quetzaltenango/relatores-consideran-que-carceles-de-quetzaltenango-son-vulnerables-a-contagios-de-covid-19/
- Mattresses on the Floor of the Guatemala City Airport, Placed for Returned Migrants, (PDH Guatemala, “Coronavirus en Guatemala: los contagios de covid-19 entre migrantes que llevaron al país a suspender los vuelos de deportados desde EE.UU.,” BBC News, 21 April 2020, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-52364025)