- As of April 27, there were 530 registered cases and 15 deaths confirmed from Covid-19 in Guatemala..
- Hundreds of people have been deported from the US to Guatemala after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Guatemala said all 12 randomly selected migrants on a plane that flew from the United States, on Monday of last week, tested positive for Covid-19.
The disagreement between Guatemala and the United States due to the deportation of migrants in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is now public. For weeks, there were serious suspicions about some of the Guatemalan migrants returned by the US authorities. They were infected after unsuccessfully trying to enter the country with the highest number of cases and deaths from covid-19 in the world.
The controversy did not stop as the president of the Central American country, Alejandro Giammattei, and US administration officials began to contradict each other when talking about how many migrants had tested positive for the virus.
After making dozens of infections public, however, Guatemala had no choice but to rectify its position with the United States to the point of suspending flights with deportees on board from that country.
At least, until making sure that Washington guarantees that the people expelled are in good health and do not contribute to expanding the pandemic in Guatemala, which until April 27th registered 530 confirmed cases and 15 deaths from covid-19.
Hundreds of people have been deported from the US to Guatemala after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Organizations defending migrants considered this measure good, although they recalled that Guatemala must verify the conditions of its citizens while they are still being held in US centers – the number of which is unknown – until the deportations resume.
Absence of tests in the United States
“As of today, and until the agreement signed by the two countries is fulfilled, which gives us the certainty that these people are going to come with a certificate that shows us that they are free of coronaviruses, the flights of deportees are suspended,” Giammattei confirmed on Friday.
The president gave as an example that of 12 randomly selected migrants on a plane that flew from the United States on Monday of last week, all 12 tested positive for Covid-19.
“Much of that flight has practically contaminated us,” he acknowledged.
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei confirmed the suspension of flights with deported people until the US can certify that they are not infected with covid-19.
The role of the US when it comes to verifying the health of the deportees has been in question for weeks, especially since on March 21 it approved the immediate expulsion of undocumented migrants – without starting any asylum process – as an extraordinary measure against the coronavirus.
From then until April 11, the US expelled more than 6,300 people along its border with Mexico. To this strategy, President Donald Trump added on Monday his intention to suspend “temporarily” immigration to his country due to the pandemic.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) confirmed that these people are not routinely tested for the coronavirus before returning them to their country, but they do take their temperature. In case this test shows they have a fever, they are sent to ICE facilities for additional monitoring.
US health officials came to Guatemala “to review and validate” the coronavirus tests being conducted in the country on deported migrants.
“Once the results are available, ICE will determine whether current medical procedures should be reevaluated,” ICE spokeswoman Jenny Burke told the Los Angeles Times, which also highlighted experts’ doubts that these tests are sufficient, since many carriers of the virus are asymptomatic.
Criticism of the Management of Guatemala
But not just the work of the United States is questioned. Migrant support organizations criticize that, although Guatemala ended up improving its follow-up on cases, it began by doing insufficient health tests on deportees.
“On the first flights when the crisis started, people only took their temperature, but without doing any tests to find out if they were carriers of the virus or not and putting their lives and that of their families at risk,” says Julia Gonzalez, coordinator of the National Table for Migration of Guatemala (Menamig).
Many Guatemalan and other Central American migrants flee to the US from poverty or violence.
“Droplet actions have been implemented and this has hurt migrants, especially because people infected without knowing it could be brought back to their community and without having responsibility for it,” agrees the Ombudsman for Migrant Persons in Guatemala, Carlos Eduardo Woltke.
Both experts acknowledge the decision to suspend these flights and put the migrants’ health first, but remember that Guatemala must continue to watch over their conditions while they are still being held in the United States.
The Guatemalan government said the highest number was recorded on a March 26 flight, in which 24 of the 42 migrants on board were infected.