April 1, 2023

Colonia Mezquital, Guatemala – It had taken hours to cross the border from Honduras to Guatemala by bus, and Edwin Gomez, a 39-year-old migrants from Honduras’s capital, wanted a spot to relaxation for the night time.

That is how he discovered himself with Friar German Tax, strolling slowly via Colonia Mezquital, a neighborhood 15 km (9.3 miles) south of Guatemala Metropolis. Their vacation spot was a two-storey home, nestled alongside a slim avenue.

“I used to be instructed that there was a church the place I might come and keep,” Gomez instructed Al Jazeera.

However shelters just like the one the place Gomez was headed are dealing with new threats in Guatemala. As migrants and asylum seekers journey north via Central Americawith many headed to the United StatesGuatemala has instituted reforms that would criminalize the work completed by faith-based teams and volunteers to shelter and look after them.

In January, the federal government started implementing new laws that will require non-governmental migrant shelters to submit biometric info and different knowledge for migrants who use their amenities every day. That knowledge contains identification particulars, fingerprints, biographical materials and different private info.

Leaders from the Episcopal Convention of Guatemala, a department of the Catholic Church, have raised issues concerning the new laws. Tax, the friar working in Colonia Mezquital, expressed outrage on the prospect of imposing the brand new coverage.

“That is not doable,” exclaimed Tax, sitting in a chair within the entryway of the shelter. “If we did that, we’d be shedding the belief that migrants have in us as a result of right here migrants come and communicate and inform their tales.”

Friar German Tax sits in a chair in the entrance of the migrant shelter in Colonia Mezquital on February 14
Friar German Tax takes a seat on the entrance of the migrant shelter in Colonia Mezquital, Guatemala, on February 14 [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

But when shelters like Tax’s fail to conform, authorities might use components of the reforms made to Guatemala’s immigration legislation in February 2022 to pursue felony prices towards shelter personnel.

The reforms goal human smugglers identified domestically as “coyotes”, extending the utmost jail sentence for unlawful trafficking to 30 years. However as a consequence of ambiguity within the legislation’s language, the reforms is also used to punish individuals who support and help migrants and asylum seekers.

Underneath the brand new reforms, the label “trafficker” could possibly be utilized to anybody who facilitates a migrant’s keep and transit in Guatemala.

“We aren’t forcing them emigrate,” mentioned Tax. “What we do is not any extra like receiving the brother or sister to allow them to relaxation, sleep an evening in a mattress, eat about two meals and proceed on their approach.”

Crowds of migrants and asylum-seekers squeeze between two parked buses
Migrants and asylum seekers touring to the US board a bus from Honduras to Guatemala in September 2022 [File: Fredy Rodriguez/Reuters]

The Catholic Church operates 9 migrant shelters throughout Guatemala, which serve hundreds every month, together with the two-story home in Colonia Mezquital.

The Franciscan order is in command of that exact shelter, which is situated close to a bus station the place folks can discover transportation alongside Guatemala’s southern coast towards Mexico. The shelter opened in 2019 and has capability for as much as 40 guests. Migrants and asylum seekers can keep for as much as three days earlier than they transfer on to the subsequent cease of their journey north.

However throughout a January 27 press convention in Guatemala Metropolis, the bishops of Guatemala’s Episcopal Convention warned they might shut all 9 shelters fully, quite than be pressured to submit knowledge on the migrants and asylum seekers who use their humanitarian providers.

The brand new laws are “an extreme management”, Cardinal Alvaro Ramazzini, bishop for the division of Huehuetenango, instructed Al Jazeera following the press convention. “The concept [is] that those that come to the Casa del Migrante come to ask for relaxation.”

However the heightened measures come as Guatemala more and more cracks down on the migrants and asylum seekers who cross via the Central American nation. In January, greater than 200 migrants, primarily from Ecuador, India, Haiti and Venezuela, have been deported by immigration officers, based on the Guatemalan Migration Institute, a authorities company.

Guatemala has additionally carried out new visa necessities for residents of the Dominican Republic after it noticed a rise in folks arriving from the Caribbean nation.

Stricter immigration measures have been a pattern throughout Central America, because the administration of US President Joe Biden places strain on the area to stem the movement of migrants and asylum seekers touring north to its southern border With Mexico.

“It’s an goal of america that the containment [of migrants] begins from nations like Guatemalasaid Ursula Roldan, an immigration professional at Guatemala’s Rafael Landivar College.

“These insurance policies solely have an effect on migrants and put them in danger,” she mentioned.

And the route north is already dangerousas migrants and asylum seekers face threats and extortion, even from Police demanding bribes.

A boy sits on the floor, while behind him, adults look at computers behind a glass barricade
A baby sits on the ground after arriving at La Aurora Worldwide airport in Guatemala Metropolis on a deportation flight from the US [File: Sandra Sebastian/Reuters]

As Guatemala continues to implement measures to discourage migrants and asylum seekers, the Episcopal Convention has sought dialogue with the federal government of President Alejandro Giammattei to advocate towards among the reforms.

In keeping with Cardinal Ramazzini, a delegation from the Pastoral of Human Mobility — a Catholic group — shall be assembly with Guatemala’s Vice President Guillermo Castillo and the Nationwide Immigration Authority within the coming weeks.

The Guatemalan Migration Institute instructed Al Jazeera it was unable to touch upon the problems raised by the brand new immigration reforms till the assembly had taken place.

In keeping with congressional consultant Ligia Hernandez of the centrist Semilla celebration, her workplace will even be holding a listening to alongside church authorities to make clear how the reforms shall be carried out so they don’t have an effect on the shelters.

“Migrant shelters exist to not promote migration however to look after individuals who haven’t been cared for of their nations,” Hernandez instructed Al Jazeera. She promised to “make it clear” that the federal government is “not going to criminalize the actions which can be carried out throughout the shelters”.

On the coronary heart of the issues is the concern that the brand new immigration necessities will worsen an already worrying humanitarian disaster In area. However shelter staff like Friar Tax are decided to proceed serving the migrants and asylum seekers who cross via its doorways.

“Our duty and our activity,” he mentioned, is “to maintain folks to the extent that we will. We’re going to proceed working, serving the folks to the very best of our potential”.

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