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Belize

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. Although the government committed to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, persons at risk of becoming stateless, or other persons of concern under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, the Belize Refugees Act, and the UN Convention for Statelessness, the government severely restricted approval of asylum applications after reinstating the Refugee Eligibility Committee in 2015.

Citizenship: The government continued to enforce a moratorium on the issuance of Belize citizenship to Guatemalan citizens that started in 2012. The moratorium began in response to complaints that the constitution does not allow for Belizean nationality to be awarded to Guatemalans if they do not renounce their previous nationality first. Guatemala does not have a formal nationality renunciation process, so Guatemalan nationals cannot technically qualify for Belizean citizenship. As a result, several Guatemalan nationals who met the criteria to become Belize citizens found themselves in limbo.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government does not distinguish between refugees and asylum seekers, as the law itself does not reference asylum seekers–only refugees and recognized refugees. During the year the government granted asylum status to 28 persons of the more than 3,000 applicants. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Help for Progress, UNHCR’s implementing partner in the country, continued to assist by providing limited basic services, including shelter, clothing, and food to refugees and asylum seekers.

Employment: Persons awaiting adjudication of their refugee applications were unable to work legally in the country.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees were able to use the education system and the socialized medical system, but the government offered no assistance with housing or food except in extreme cases that involved children and pregnant women.

Temporary Protection: The Immigration Department issued renewable special residency permits for periods of 60 to 90 days to those who applied for refugee status within the 14-day deadline.

Canada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and facilitated local integration (including naturalization), particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (in the form of temporary residence permits) to persons who may not qualify as refugees.

Costa Rica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The law requires authorities to process the claims within three months of receipt, but decisions took an average of 14 months and an additional 12 months for the appeals process.

The number of persons seeking asylum increased significantly. The Immigration Office handled a growing number of migrants requesting refugee status, the majority from Nicaragua. According to immigration authorities, from April to September, Nicaraguans filed 8,000 claims and authorities gave migrants more than 15,000 more appointments to file their requests, up from fewer than 100 applications from Nicaraguans in all of 2017. The government leased additional office space and opened a call center to process appointments and disseminate information better.

As of August the Appeals Tribunal, which adjudicates all migration appeals, had a backlog of 476 asylum cases. UNHCR provided support to the Refugee Unit and the Appeals Tribunal to hire additional legal and administrative personnel to assist with reduction of the backlog.

Employment: Refugee regulations provide asylum seekers an opportunity to obtain work permits if they have to wait beyond the three months the law allows for a decision on their asylum claim (which occurs in virtually all cases). On August 10, the Labor Ministry, the Chamber of Commerce, and UNHCR launched a program to assist asylum seekers and refugees to find jobs.

Access to Basic Services: By law asylum seekers and refugees have access to public services and social welfare programs, but access was often hampered by lack of knowledge about their status in the country and feelings of xenophobia among some service providers. For example, asylum seekers without employers (who constituted the majority of asylum seekers) faced restrictions when enrolling voluntarily as independent workers in the public health system.

Asylum seekers received provisional refugee status documents legalizing their status after appearing for an interview with the General Directorate of Immigration, for which the estimated wait time was eight months. Provisional refugee ID cards do not resemble other national identity documents, so while government authorities generally accepted them, many private citizens did not. Upon receiving refugee status, which typically took another nine months, refugees could obtain an identity document similar to those used by nationals at a cost of 39,000 colones ($68), renewable every two years.

Durable Solutions: The government continued to implement a “Protection Transfer Arrangement” in coordination with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration for refugee resettlement in third countries. The government was committed to local integration of refugees both legally and socially and to facilitating their naturalization process. In partnership with UNHCR, on April 23, the government awarded “Living Integration” certifications to 20 public and private organizations to help refugees and asylum seekers earn a livelihood.

Temporary Protection: There were no programs for temporary protection beyond refugee status. Due to low recognition rates (approximately 8 percent of applicants received asylum during the first six months of the year), UNHCR had to consider a number of rejected asylum seekers as persons in need of international protection. UNHCR provided support and access to integration programs to individuals still pursuing adjudication and appeals. The individuals requesting refugee status were mainly from Nicaragua, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Colombia; the majority were male adults and extended families.

STATELESS PERSONS

There continued to be problems of statelessness of indigenous children and children of seasonal workers in the border areas with Panama and Nicaragua derived from the difficulties linked to birth registrations. Members of the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous group from Panama often worked on Costa Rican farms and occasionally gave birth there. In these cases parents did not register Ngobe-Bugle children as Costa Rican citizens at birth because they did not think it necessary, although the children lacked registration in Panama as well. Approximately 1,200 children were affected. Government authorities worked together with UNHCR on a program of birth registration and provision of identification documents to stateless persons known as “Chiriticos.” Mobile teams went to remote coffee-growing areas for case identification and registration. The National Civil Registry appointed a permanent officer in the regional offices of Coto Brus, Talamanca, and Tarrazu to provide follow-up services. From May 27 to June 3, authorities from Costa Rica and Panama collaborated to register citizens from the southern area of Punta Burica as part of the Chiriticos project. UNHCR and the National Civil Registry continued a project along the northern border for individuals of Nicaraguan origin to facilitate procedures for late birth registration.

El Salvador

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although in many areas the government could not guarantee freedom of movement due to criminal gang activity. As of July 31, the PDDH received two complaints of restrictions from freedom of movement, one against the PNC and the other against a court in Jiquilisco. Both cases involved subjects being detained without charge. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and some assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although this was often difficult in gang-controlled neighborhoods.

In-country Movement: The major gangs controlled their own territory. Gang members did not allow persons living in another gang’s controlled area to enter their territory, even when travelling via public transportation. Gangs forced persons to present government-issued identification cards (containing their addresses) to determine their residence. If gang members discovered that a person lived in a rival gang’s territory, that person risked being killed, beaten, or not allowed to enter the territory. Bus companies paid extortion fees to operate within gang territories, often paying numerous fees for the different areas in which they operated. The extortion costs were passed on to customers.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

On July 13, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the constitution by not recognizing forced displacement or providing sufficient aid to IDPs. The ruling followed several lawsuits brought by victims, including members of the PNC. The court ordered the Legislative Assembly to pass legislation addressing internal displacement and officially recognize internal displacement. The court also called on the government to retake control of gang territories, develop protection protocols for victims, and uphold international standards for protecting victims.

As of July the PDDH reported 69 complaints of forced displacement from January to May. Nearly all of the complaints were from gang-controlled territories, with 51 cases from San Salvador. As of October the government acknowledged that 1.1 percent of the general population was internally displaced. UNHCR estimated there were 280,000 IDPs. UNHCR reported the causes of internal displacement included abuse, extortion, discrimination, and threats.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, including an established system for providing protection to refugees. As of July 31, four petitions had been submitted, with three resulting in denial and one still under consideration.

Guatemala

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

An immigration law in effect since 2017 overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The preparation of regulations to implement the law, including on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end. Government agencies made limited progress in implementing the Protection Council mandated by the new migration code, which would support the protection, reception, and reintegration of returned children.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, including during the mid-October surge of Central American migrants that passed through the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The country does not have laws in place to protect IDPs in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern regarding violence against IDPs and strengthened its efforts to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change and natural disasters. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights characterized as IDPs 400 farmers the government evicted from the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 2017. Media and civil society groups reported the evictees did not receive government assistance in a timely manner.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked adequate training concerning the rules for establishing refugee status.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR reported access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.

Honduras

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Transiting migrants were vulnerable to abuse by criminal organizations.

In-country Movement: There were areas where authorities could not assure freedom of movement because of criminal activity and a lack of significant government presence.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

In 2017 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated there were approximately 190,000 IDPs in the country. In 2017 the National Human Rights Commission identified 339 cases of forced displacement and 349 cases of individuals at risk of forced displacement. Internal displacement was generally caused by violence, national and transnational gang activity, and human trafficking. Official data on forced internal displacement was limited in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children).

The government maintained the Interinstitutional Commission for the Protection of People Displaced by Violence, and within the newly created Ministry of Human Rights, the government created the Directorate for the Protection of Persons Internally Displaced by Violence. Both the ministry and the commission focused on developing policies to address IDPs. Following up on the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework conference that the government hosted in October 2017, the participants, including governments from across the region, agreed to the Regional Integral Framework for Protection and Solutions. Under the framework the government pledged to strengthen its capacity to provide services to key population groups, including refugees and returned migrants, through 14 commitments and 28 specific actions between 2018 and 2020.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law allows for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system to provide protection to refugees, but at times there were significant delays in processing provisional permits for asylum applicants.

Mexico

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

The government and press reports noted a marked increase in refugee and asylum applications during the year. According to UNHCR statistics, there were 9,900 asylum applications during the first half of the year, compared with a total of 14,596 applications in all of 2017.

At the Iztapalapa detention center near Mexico City, the Twenty-First Century detention center in Chiapas, and other detention facilities, men were separated from women and children, and there were special living quarters for LGBTI individuals. Migrants had access to medical, psychological, and dental services, and the Iztapalapa center had agreements with local hospitals to care for any urgent cases free of charge. Individuals from countries with consular representation also had access to consular services. Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) and CNDH representatives visited daily, and other established civil society groups were able to visit the detention facilities on specific days and hours. Victims of trafficking and other crimes were housed in specially designated shelters. Human rights pamphlets were available in many different languages. In addition approximately 35 centers cooperated with UNHCR and allowed it to display posters and provide other information on how to access asylum for those in need of international protection.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials. Government and civil society sources reported the Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. An August 2017 report by the independent INM Citizens’ Council found incidents in which immigration agents had been known to threaten and abuse migrants to force them to accept voluntary deportation and discourage them from seeking asylum. The council team visited 17 detention centers across the country and reported threats, violence, and excessive force against undocumented migrants. The INM responded to these allegations by asserting it treated all migrants with “absolute respect.”

There were media reports that criminal groups kidnapped undocumented migrants to extort money from migrants’ relatives or force them into committing criminal acts on their behalf.

A November 2017 Amnesty International report highlighted the dangers Central American LGBTI migrants faced in Mexico. Citing UNHCR data, the report stated two-thirds of LGBTI migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who applied for refugee status reported having been victims of sexual violence in Mexico.

According to a July 2017 report from the NGO Washington Office on Latin America, of the 5,824 reported crimes against migrants that occurred in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Sonora, Coahuila, and at the federal level, 99 percent of the crimes were unresolved.

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by kidnappings and homicides.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) attributed the displacement of 10,947 people in 2018 to violence by government forces against civilians in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Sinaloa. Land conflicts, social and ethnic violence, local political disputes, religiously motivated violence, extractive industry operations, and natural disasters were other causes. The CMDPDH found 74 percent of displaced persons in 2017 came from the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Sinaloa. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.

During an October 2017 border dispute between two municipalities in the state of Chiapas, 5,323 Tzotziles indigenous individuals were displaced. Violence between the communities resulted in women, children, and the elderly abandoning their homes. By January, 3,858 had returned, and the rest remained in shelters.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status and complementary protection, and the government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protection to refugees. At the end of 2017, the Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) had received 14,596 petitions, of which 2,400 were abandoned, 7,719 were pending, and 4,475 were resolved. The number of applicants withdrawing from the process dropped to 16 percent during the year, down from 36 percent in 2014. The refusal rate decreased from 61 percent to 37 percent over that same period. NGOs reported bribes sometimes influenced the adjudication of asylum petitions and requests for transit visas.

The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to asylum and the asylum procedure, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, and integration (access to school and work) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status. In October, the government announced the “You Are at Home” (“Estas en tu casa”) program to address the flow of migrants in so-called caravans from Central America transiting the country to seek asylum in the United States. The program offered migrants the opportunity to stay legally in the country with access to health care, employment, and education for children. Press reports indicated that 546 migrants had registered for the program as of November 11.

Nicaragua

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government strictly controlled the entry of persons affiliated with some groups, specifically humanitarian and faith-based organizations. The government may prevent the departure of travelers with pending cases; authorities used this authority against individuals involved in the protest movement. The law requires exit visas for minors. Beginning on April 19, there were periods in which demand for exit visas and other migration services overwhelmed the government’s capacity, in effect impeding the ability of families to leave the country.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Only the executive branch or the country’s embassies abroad may grant asylum for political persecution. The Nicaraguan National Commission for Refugees had not met since 2015.

Durable Solutions: The government recognized 61 persons for refugee status in 2015, the most recent year for which information was available.

Panama

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, persons under temporary humanitarian protection, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. In January the Ministry of Government issued an executive decree to regulate the protection of refugees, abolishing the previous decree from 1998. The National Office for the Attention of Refugees (ONPAR) declared the reforms were positive and necessary. The decree increases the frequency of the approval board meetings and reduces wait times for final decisions through improved processing and the implementation of a computerized application process. International organizations and NGOs criticized the new decree because it did not include the Cartagena Declaration definition of refugee, nor did it provide applicants with work permits. The new decree also stipulates a six-month waiting period after entering the country before applying for refugee status, and it establishes a summary proceeding to deny refugees who have “manifestly unfounded claims” as determined by ONPAR. In August the government issued a resolution detailing which claims will be considered “manifestly unfounded.” NGOs believed this would further limit access to refugee status and leave more persons in need of international protection. The process of obtaining refugee status generally took one to two years, during which asylum seekers did not have the right to work and encountered difficulties accessing basic services.

In March the government and UNHCR signed a cooperation agreement to train border personnel in identification and referral of persons needing international protection. The government also signed two protocols for the protection of children who migrate: a protocol for identification, referral, and attention for minors requiring international protection, and an institutional protocol for protecting minors who migrate.

In June the government announced it would deport 70 Cuban migrants sheltered in Darien, on the border with Colombia, and in July the government reported that 37 Cubans were placed in the shelter located on the border with Costa Rica. The government continued to manage camps in the Darien region to provide food, shelter, and medical assistance to the migrants. The government reported continued migrations of persons from South Asia, India, and Africa.

According to UNHCR and its NGO implementing partners, thousands of persons living in the country might be in need of international protection. These included persons in the refugee process, persons denied refugee status, and persons who did not apply for refugee status due to lack of knowledge or fear of deportation.

Employment: Refugees recognized by authorities have the right to work, but recognized refugees complained that they faced discriminatory hiring practices. In an effort to prevent this discriminatory practice, ONPAR removed the word “refugee” from recognized refugees’ identification cards. By law individuals in the process of applying for asylum do not have the right to work.

All foreigners seeking a work contract must initiate the process through a lawyer and pay a government fee of 700 balboas to obtain a work permit that expires upon termination of the labor contract or after one year, whichever comes first.

Access to Basic Services: Education authorities sometimes denied refugees access to education and refused to issue diplomas to others if they could not present school records from their country of origin. The Ministry of Education continued to enforce the government’s 2015 decree requiring schools to accept students in the asylum process at the grade level commensurate with the applicants’ prior studies.

Durable Solutions: The law allows persons legally recognized as refugees or with asylum status who have lived in the country for more than three years to seek permanent residency.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government continued to work with Colombia to recognize approximately 200 stateless persons on the border. The governments of Panama and Costa Rica, with the cooperation of UNHCR, continued to use a mobile registry office on the border with Costa Rica to register indigenous Ngabe and Bugle seasonal workers who travel between Costa Rica and Panama and who had not registered their births in either country.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future