In 2001, Guatemala hosted 729 refugees, of whom 503 were Nicaraguan and 176 Salvadoran. Guatemala received 58 asylum applications (representing 72 individuals) during the year; the Mexican office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which adjudicates asylum claims in Guatemala, granted 21 applicants refugee status. At the end of the year, nine applications filed by Indian asylum seekers were pending; the remaining 49 cases were rejected or abandoned.

Guatemala is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol. In October, the government enacted legislation to implement the Convention, but UNHCR continued to adjudicate asylum claims while the government drafted regulations. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported long delays for asylum determinations because all asylum claims filed in Guatemala are adjudicated by UNHCR in Mexico.

During the year, Mexico deported at least 1,000 migrants from India, Pakistan, Sudan, China, Colombia, Ecuador, and other countries to Guatemala after determining that they had transited through Guatemala. The migrants were generally detained, and some applied for asylum. The United States finances the deportation of nearly all extra-regional migrants from Guatemala in an attempt to prevent them from reaching the U.S. border.

In 2001, Guatemala detained 32 asylum seekers. Detention facilities were dirty, poorly ventilated, and overcrowded. Representatives of UNHCR and NGOs were unable to conduct interviews with detainees in private, and detainees were not permitted to receive visitors. Female detainees were not always separated from the male population. In December, an Indian detainee committed suicide, in part because of the conditions of the detention facility. The United States finances Guatemala's detention of extra-regional migrants at a rate of $8.50 per migrant per day.

An unknown number of persons hoping to reach the United States transited through Guatemala during the year. In 2000, the Guatemalan government launched an immigration law-enforcement initiative known as Plan Coyote, which continued throughout 2001. The program, involving border and interior enforcement by immigration agents trained by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, was aimed at stopping smugglers. However, by year's end, only undocumented migrants – and no smugglers or traffickers – had been arrested and deported.

The former director of the General Directorate of Migration acknowledged publicly during the year that persons attempting to cross illegally into the country are subject to extortion and mistreatment by government officials. Local NGOs alleged that in border areas with no official inspection stations, Guatemalan authorities acted with impunity during the year and did not assure meaningful access to asylum procedures. UNHCR's implementing partner in Guatemala reported that immigration officials often failed to report detained migrants' requests for asylum to their agency.

During the year, 13 refugees voluntarily repatriated from Guatemala. Most returned to Nicaragua.

Refugee Return

One million Guatemalans – mostly disenfranchised indigenous people who lived in Guatemala's northern highlands – were uprooted during the civil war that began in the 1960s and peaked in the 1980s. Some of the uprooted fled to neighboring countries and to the United States, although most remained displaced within Guatemala. A majority of the internally displaced subsequently returned home.

In October 1992, Guatemalan refugees in Mexico signed an agreement with the government of Guatemala that paved the way for refugees to repatriate with government and UNHCR assistance. By the end of 2001, nearly all of the Guatemalan refugees in Mexico had returned home, obtained legal permanent resident status in Mexico, or become naturalized Mexican citizens.

UNHCR expressed concern about the progress of long-term reintegration of former refugees who returned to Guatemala, and continued to monitor their situation until the end of the year. More than 1,500 Guatemalan returnees indicated their intention to go back to Mexico if the Guatemalan government did not resolve their land-ownership issues and improve living conditions.

Internal Displacement

Although some Guatemalans who became internally displaced in the 1980s remained away from their homes in 2001, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) no longer included them in its listing of internally displaced populations. The conflict that caused the displaced to flee ended in 1996, and virtually all of the Guatemalan refugees who intend to return home have done so. Displaced Guatemalans who wish to return home are no longer prevented from doing so by conflict or fear of persecution; for most, the barrier is the government's lack of political will and resources to provide the displaced the land and assistance they would need upon their return.


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