The U.S. administration has invoked preventing the spread of Coronavirus in the United States to justify a blanket policy blocking asylum seekers from accessing protection, instead sending them back to harm. 

Olga Byrne, International Rescue Committee’s Director of Immigration, said: “Yet another new form of rapid deportation is happening at the southern U.S. border that is preventing asylum seekers from seeking protection pursuant to their rights under the U.S. and international law. Rather than developing an effective, dignified, and humane way of processing asylum claims from people escaping abhorrent violence in Northern Central America, the current administration is using the Coronavirus crisis to bypass due process, inevitably sending asylum-seekers back to countries where they face persecution, in violation of binding international law not to return people back to harm known as non-refoulement. The administration has failed to recognize that this is a global pandemic and efforts must be made to mitigate spread of the virus everywhere - not just in one country alone. The acute safety needs of asylum seekers -- people already fleeing for their lives -- justify a more nuanced approach than this outright cruel policy. ”

Restrictions on travel to mitigate spread of the coronavirus should be managed in a way that maintains refugee protection standards and adheres to the principle of non-refoulement. The International Rescue Committee is partnering with organizations at the border to identify individuals vulnerable to COVID complications and file humanitarian parole applications on their behalf. 

Back  in Central America, deportees are returned to the same violence and fear they fled, now complicated by health systems that are insufficiently prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. In El Salvador specifically, where the International Rescue Committee has been supporting returnees since 2018, all  returnees are sent immediately to quarantine centers for 30 days. Most return with only the clothes on their backs, and do not have basic hygiene supplies; many do not have money or access to communications to contact their families. In El Salvador, the mandatory quarantine has significantly reduced services available to vulnerable populations. Although the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador asked the US government not to send deportees back to Central America during this global pandemic, deportation continues, with flights arriving almost every day. 

Meg Galas, International Rescue Committee’s Country Director of Northern Central America (El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala), said, “Deportees arrive everyday, risking further spread of COVID-19 infection in Central America and straining the limited resources of Central American governments that are preparing health systems to attend to an already vulnerable population. Three to four flights a week are arriving, and deportees are being sent to specific quarantine centers. On Tuesday,, three unaccompanied children were deported to El Salvador. We know there are at least nine unaccompanied children in the quarantine centers in El Salvador right now. Deportees are being sent right back to the violence they were trying to escape. Services are severely reduced because of the national quarantine.” 

The International Rescue Committee is mitigating the spread of the Coronavirus in El Salvador through coordinating the delivery of kits for basic needs to deportees and by sharing accurate information on CuentaNos., the IRC’s interactive service mapping and information platform, posts new information on COVID-19 every day for hundreds of viewers across El Salvador, on CuentaNos’ Facebook and on its website’s COVID19 information section. CuéntaNos also provides direct two-way communication through WhatsApp messaging with trained IRC moderators to support individuals and families. IRC moderators have extended their hours, attending inquiries and various information needs from 7:30am until 11pm every day. (Know someone who could use the support in El Salvador? Send a Whatsapp message to 001 518 413 0994)

The IRC is seeking immediate resources to support particularly vulnerable populations, whose wellbeing and livelihoods have been or soon will be severely affected due to the crisis. Last week, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) launched an appeal to raise US $30 million to combat coronavirus around the world. To donate to the IRC, visit: