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U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Guatemala

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1998
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Guatemala, 1 January 1998, available at: [accessed 22 October 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Guatemala hosted 1,500 refugees, including more than 1,000 Nicaraguans, 400 Salvadorans, and 75 others. More than 250,000 Guatemalans were internally displaced, and 30,000 Guatemalan refugees remained in Mexico.

Political Developments A civil war that began in the 1960s but reached its peak in the early 1980s left more than 100,000 dead, an estimated 40,000 "disappeared," 80,000 widowed, and 200,000 children orphaned. It also uprooted as many as a million people, many of whom fled to neighboring Central American countries, Mexico, or the United States, or who remained displaced within Guatemala. During 1997, 3,573 Guatemalan refugees returned to Guatemala with UNHCR assistance.

In November, President Clinton signed into law the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, which allowed Guatemalan nationals who had applied for asylum in the United States by April 1, 1990, to seek suspension of deportation under the more lenient pre-1996 immigration rules. For these persons, the time in residence after they received a deportation order will count toward the residence requirement for suspension of deportation.

A peace accord signed on December 29, 1996 ended the decades-long conflict in Guatemala. In August 1997, the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) began investigations into human rights violations during the 36-year civil war. It received 25,000 cases on its first day of operation.

In 1997, the UN Mission to Guatemala (MINUGUA), which monitors human rights, reported that there had been "a significant advance" in respect for human rights, though it noted "illegal participation by the Presidential staff" in anti-kidnapping operations. Human rights abuse, even if diminished, remained a serious problem, however.

Some 30,000 Guatemalan refugees remained in camps in Mexico's three southern states of Chiapas, Campeche, and Quintana Roo. Conditions in Chiapas were less favorable compared with the other two states, where many of the refugees have applied for permanent residence.

From 1984 through September 1997, more than 36,000 Guatemalans repatriated to Guatemala. The first collective return of 1997 was in July; four more followed in July, August, September, and November. Altogether, 3,573 Guatemalan refugees returned to Guatemala with UNHCR assistance, including those in the collective returns, during the year.

On September 17, 1997, the government and groups that assist returnees signed an agreement to begin drawing the repatriation process to a close. The agreement said that refugees who wished to return to Guatemala under the terms of the October 1992 repatriation agreement must register by December 29, 1997. The September 17 accord, like the October 1992 accord, called on the government to provide returnees land "of a quality, productive capacity and location that permits a dignified family life and possibility of repaying the credits obtained."

According to UNHCR, returnees have fared relatively well. UNHCR said, "There have not been reports of serious violations of their basic human rights by the authorities during 1997." However, returnee communities remain divided. Furthermore, those Guatemalans who were accustomed to living in settlements in the Mexican states of Campeche and Quintana Roo found conditions in Guatemala difficult due to a lack of infrastructure, social services, technical assistance, credit, roads, and markets. Women who had been active in community decision-making in Mexico found after returning to Guatemala that men dominated community activism.

UNHCR's assistance to returnees focused on securing personal documentation for them. Most Guatemalans in rural regions lack valid birth certificates and identity cards. Without such identification, they cannot vote, hold formal employment, or own land. UNHCR helped win passage of a new law that eliminated several bureaucratic steps in obtaining identification. UNHCR also assisted returnees' socio-economic reintegration through "Quick Impact Projects" and income-generating activities.

Internal Displacement A year after the signing of the peace accord, more than 250,000 Guatemalans remained internally displaced. Nearly half were located in Quiche Province. In June, representatives of more than 100,000 displaced people signed the "Accord on the Resettlement of Populations Uprooted by the Armed Conflict." The accord called for displaced peoples' most important needs, such as land and basic infrastructure in the areas where they intend to relocate permanently, to be addressed.

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